By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
As healthcare providers we often find ourselves having a hard time practicing what we preach. We know exercise and eating healthy are important but putting this knowledge into practice can be difficult. With long shifts, odd hours, and physically exhausting work, most nurses realize they have become far more deconditioned than they imagined.
This leads to a very tough cycle to break. You miss a few gym days, which turn into weeks, and finally, you are so discouraged that it is hard to even set foot back in a gym.
I recommend easing back into an exercise routine if you haven’t been to the gym in a while. Rather than committing to a five-day exercise plan, shoot for two or three days. If you are successful with this goal then expand from there. By setting small goals and achieving them, your sense of accomplishment will help build new habits and stick to them.
With the time constraints that come with shift work, it may be easier to start at home to remove the extra time it takes to drive to and from a gym. Luckily, there are some great bodyweight exercises that can be used to help you get back in shape, and they act as building blocks for a healthier lifestyle.
- Lunges are great because they work a plethora of muscles in your legs. You can do them two ways: walking or stationary. For walking lunges, set a distance goal and lunge from one point to the next. Stationary lunges are a great option if you do not have a lot of room for movement.
- Once you have built some strength here, you can progress to jumping lunges. Simply jump as you switch from one leg to the next, and land in the lunge position
- Squats are great for building core strength and lower body strength. Make sure to keep your feet slightly outside of shoulder width, keep your torso straight, and try to keep your heels from coming up off the ground.
- If a basic squat is too difficult, use a chair or a bench and squat down to this surface. Try to find something that will make your thighs come to a parallel position at the bottom.
- This movement can seem daunting, but there are lots of ways to scale push-ups! Do them on your knees if you cannot do a traditional mid-air. If this is too hard, mimic the movement of a push up while placing your hands on a wall.
- Focus on keeping your elbows in close to your body and your core tight as you lower. If you are scaling the movement, really concentrate on slowly contracting your muscles as you go through the exercise.
- These can be done on a table, chair, couch, or even a park bench. Start by sitting upright on the object. Placing your hands outside of your hips, move your body slightly forward so your glutes are suspended in mid-air. Lower your arms to a 90-degree angle, and push until they are locked out.
- Keeping your knees bent as if you are sitting will help make the movement easier. You can also do a higher surface if a chair is too difficult. Hug your elbows in close as you lower, and try to keep your shoulders and back straight.
- This old-school move can be great for helping build up some cardio endurance—especially if you don’t like to run (guilty over here!)
- If you have joint issues and jumping is too intense, try doing one-legged jacks. Move your arms up above your head like in a jumping jack, but sidestep one foot out at a time. To get your heart rate up you will have to have some speed with this movement!
Box Step Ups
- These are as simple as they sound. Start by choosing a surface that is stable. I like to use park benches, garden walls, or a nice sturdy kitchen chair. If you use a chair, I recommend butting it up next to a wall to keep it from scooting as you step up. Simply alternate legs stepping up onto the surface.
- Scale these to your preferred level by lowering the height of the “box”. You could start as low as six inches if that is enough to get your heart rate up.
By rotating through these exercises, you can ease yourself back into working out without putting too much stress on your body. Start with small sets of five to ten reps, and repeat exercises as your strength and time allow.
The key to getting back into shape is to just get started. You truly can start anywhere, and be proud of yourself for making the effort. As you start to feel stronger and more comfortable with exercising, you can start to incorporate more complex movements or weight training. Online sources like Bodybuilding.com and YouTube have lots of examples of different exercises in case you are unsure of how to do a movement.
Set those small goals, conquer them, and keep the new habits coming! Don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad day or two. Keep making the effort and showing up, and you will see progress before you know it.
Alex McCoy currently works as a pediatric travel nurse. She has a passion for health and fitness, which led her to start Fit Travel Life in 2016. She travels with her husband, their cat, Autumn and their dog, Summer. She enjoys hiking, lifting weights, and trying the best local coffee and wine.
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