The nursing profession demands a high level of physical vigor and mental clarity, and most nurses spend large portions of each day on their feet, providing patient care and making critical decisions about diagnoses and treatments. To ensure the highest level of stamina and energy, nurses should be consistent in their exercise and intentional in their nutritional habits. Not only can a healthy lifestyle improve their physical ability, but it also helps them set a positive example for their patients.
There is no one correct way for nurses to exercise and specific guidelines on nutrition for nurses vary, but some general principles may help nurses make informed decisions about their lifestyle choices.
Healthy Exercise for Nurses
As people age, their bodies require more exercise, not less. Statistics, however, prove that most Americans get far less than the recommended amount of physical activity. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that more than 7 out of 10 adults are overweight or obese, a statistic that reflects an absence of routine physical fitness. For nurses, a failure to exercise can lead to health problems that may impair their ability to do their job effectively.
Benefits of Regular Exercise
For nurses, regular exercise offers several practical benefits:
- Exercise helps nurses maintain the physical stamina required by the rigors of their job.
- Exercise can help prevent serious conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
- Through exercise, nurses can ensure they are strong enough to perform strenuous tasks such as moving and lifting patients without risk of injury.
- Physical activity can help prevent mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
Many nurses will ask how much exercise is required to achieve these health benefits.
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, adults are encouraged to achieve either 2 1/2 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise per week or 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. Aerobic exercise is recommended throughout the week, augmented with muscle-strengthening exercise on two or more days.
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise intensity can be evaluated on the basis of perceived exertion as well as heart rate.
- Moderate-intensity workouts will feel somewhat hard and may cause light perspiration after 10 minutes or so. They may cause shortness of breath but not deep or rapid breathing.
- Vigorous-intensity exercise should feel very challenging and lead to deep, rapid breathing fairly quickly.
- Moderate exercise intensity should result in about 50% to 70% of an individual’s maximum heart rate, while vigorous exercise may lead to 70% to 85% of the maximum heart rate.
Both aerobic and muscle-building exercises are recommended for well-balanced physical fitness. Some examples of aerobic exercise activities include:
- Cycling (including on a stationary bike)
- Dancing (including dance classes or group dance activities)
- Jumping rope
Some effective activities for building muscle include:
- Lifting weights
- Working with resistance bands
- Hill walking and stair climbing
- Pushups, sit-ups, and squats
To learn more about proper exercise, consider these resources.
- Greatist, “14 Exercises You Probably Didn’t Realize Were Aerobics.” Discover some helpful examples of aerobic exercise, including suggestions for both home and the gym.
- Self, “9 Weight Lifting Tips for Beginners That Will Make Your Workout More Effective.” Take a beginner’s look at weightlifting.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Measuring Physical Activity Intensity. Learn more about determining the intensity level of a workout.
- Shape, “The Biggest Mental and Physical Benefits of Working Out.” Find out more about how exercise improves physical and mental well-being.
How to Fit Exercise into a Busy Schedule
Nurses have demanding jobs and often have to fit exercise in between long shifts. For nurses who also attend school, finding time for exercise can be especially difficult. With the right strategy, however, nurses can ensure that even hectic schedules leave some time for personal wellness.
Prioritize Exercise on Days Off
One simple yet highly consequential step nurses can take is to prioritize fitness on their off days. Going to the gym following a grueling shift may pose a challenge, so nurses can instead ensure they allot time for workouts on nonwork days, in between errands, household responsibilities, and leisure time.
Make an Exercise Plan
Nurses benefit from taking a strategic approach to regular exercise. There are a number of ways for them to do this:
- Determine the forms of exercise they like the most.
- Decide which time of day they are the most energetic and most motivated to work out.
- Consider which types of exercise routine work best in their daily schedules, e.g., a jog through the neighborhood before work, a group exercise class at the YMCA, etc.
- Find a place to exercise that is convenient either to their workplace or their home.
- Set personal goals to incrementally increase their exercise intensity, frequency, or duration.
Fit Exercise into the Job Routine
There are also ways in which nursing professionals can carve out space in their day jobs for some additional physical fitness. Consider these suggestions:
- Take a quick walk outside before lunch.
- When possible, use stairs instead of elevators.
- Do chair exercises while inputting patient data.
- On breaks, do isolation exercises such as squats or lunges.
For additional insight into scheduling routine fitness, check out these links:
- Polar, “9 Ways to Make Time for Exercise with a Busy Schedule.” Consider these tips for creating time for fitness.
- Mayo Clinic, “Fitness Program: 5 Steps to Get Started.” Find out how to make a workout plan.
Healthy Nutrition for Nurses
Exercise isn’t the only component to robust physical fitness; ideally, it should be augmented with eating well. Here are a few guidelines regarding healthy nutrition for nurses.
What’s a Healthy Diet?
The United States Department of Agriculture provides some general guidelines for ensuring proper nutrition. They include:
- Make food choices that prioritize a variety of food groups and nutrients.
- Eat whole fruits and a variety of vegetables.
- Make sure half of the grains consumed are whole grains.
- Eat a variety of proteins.
- Opt for low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt.
- Minimize foods and beverages that are heavy on saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars.
- Make small, incremental changes to develop sustainable nutritional habits.
What Foods Promote Energy and Stamina?
For nurses, it’s critical to select foods that will facilitate high energy and physical endurance. Some good examples include:
- Nuts (especially walnuts, almonds, and pistachios)
- Black coffee and tea
- Healthy fats (fish, olives, avocado)
Healthy Eating Habits
Nutrition for nurses isn’t just about what foods are eaten but when and how they are eaten as well. Remember that skipping meals, binge eating, or eating unhealthy foods can lead to irritability and fatigue. Some general tips include:
- Eat on a regular schedule. Try to eat every four or five hours, without skipping meals.
- Bring healthy snacks and meals to work. Avoid vending machines.
- If eating in the hospital cafeteria, plan purchases. Avoid impulse buys.
- Make a meal plan and coordinate it with a shopping list.
Support Healthy Eating
Nutritious eating habits are more effective when paired with other healthy lifestyle choices. Tips include:
- Stay hydrated throughout the day.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol intake.
- Avoid sugary and processed foods whenever possible.
To learn more about nutrition for nurses, take a look at the following resources.
- Daily Nurse, “Eating Hacks for the Busy Nurse.” Discover some nutritional tips for nursing professionals.
- com, “Quick Nutrition Tips Nurses Can Live With” Consider these basic tips for good nourishment.
- WebMD, “Foods That Boost Your Energy.” Learn more about the best foods to increase the overall energy level.
How to Maintain Healthy Nutrition
It can be difficult for nurses to maintain healthy eating habits, especially when they are feeling tired, overworked, or stressed. Finding time to prepare healthy meals can be difficult, but once nurses form a solid routine they can find success in improving their nutrition.
Tips for Maintaining Nutrition While at Work
First, consider some basic guidelines for maintaining healthy nutrition while at work:
- Stick to a consistent eating schedule.
- Find a relaxing environment for meal breaks to ease stress and aid digestion.
- Coordinate breaks with co-workers to stay on schedule.
- Splurge for a healthy takeout meal on occasion.
- Keep healthy meal alternatives handy for when skipping a meal break is unavoidable (e.g., fresh fruit or protein bars).
Tips for Maintaining Nutrition at Home
Additionally, it’s important to prioritize sound nutrition while at home. Consider some tips:
- Stock healthy foods that you enjoy.
- Meal prep several meals at once, then freeze meals to save time.
- Avoid fad diets.
- Check weight weekly to catch any gains quickly.
- Reduce stressors and engage in stress-reducing activities such as meditation, yoga, and exercise.
Practice Healthy Habits at Home and Work
For nurses, it’s mission-critical to maintain vigorous physical and mental health. That starts with diet and exercise, both at home and in the workplace. Spend some time contemplating any incremental changes that can lead to a healthier, more productive life.