When most people think of nurses, they think of good health. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. It’s difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle as a RN. The job is physically and mentally exhausting.
I worked in the hospital for a little over 10 years so I’m here to share the tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the last decade.
I started out in the hospital in 2008 working as a student nurse assistant and then moved my way up to work as a student nurse intern. In 2011 I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Nursing and started working on a medical/surgical floor as a registered nurse. In the past ten years I have worked every shift from days, evenings, nights, weekends, holidays, and double shifts. I’ve worked on every floor, from medical/surgical, orthopedics, telemetry, psych, and the intensive care unit. I probably have the least experience working in pediatrics and in the emergency department, but I have rotated through those units as well.
Over the last 10 years working in the hospital, I have learned that before I can put energy into taking care of others, I need to learn how to take care of myself. I learned to make myself a priority. It took me some time to realize this. In my first few year as a new graduate I found myself binge eating in the break rooms at work. I would get so stressed over the patient load (we had 5-6 patients at once) so I would run into the break room and binge on all the baked goods that were in there. In my 2nd year of nursing I was working night shift in a busy med/surg ICU. My eating habits were so out of wack because my body clock was so off working night shift. I also had to play around with my workout schedule and find what worked the best for me. When I first started working night shift I tried working out after work. This didn’t last long because I felt like a zombie trying to workout after my shift. I decided it was best for my body to workout before work. Luckily I only worked nights for 6 months before I transferred to days. I started feeling like a normal person again and was able to focus back on my health. I bought the Tone It Up nutrition plan and used it as a guide for recipes and meal prep. I also joined a gym that was halfway between work and home so that I could break up my commute. I finally had a good routine down, which I carried with me to the west coast when I moved across the country as a travel nurse.
As you can see it took me a while to get used to working long shifts, finding an exercise routine that fit my schedule, and eating healthy. Now let’s finally dive into my biggest tips & tricks to maintain a healthy lifestyle while working as a nurse.
- I know some of you probably don’t like meal prepping but I promise you it will pay off! Before you start meal prepping you should invest in some good food storage containers and Pyrex dishes, as well as a lunch box that’s big enough to bring all your food to work in. When I worked in the hospital, I made sure my lunch bag could fit my breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner (I always brought my dinner in case I was stuck at work late). I found my big lunch bag at Homegood’s for pretty cheap! Lululemon or Athleta shopping bags also work well!
- To make life easier I recommend prepping the same meals for your work days– I know it’s boring to eat the same things for 2-3 days in a row but prepping the same things really saves a lot of time and if you find a recipe you really enjoy then it’s not so boring! If you are looking for more of a variety in your meals on your work days, then find meals that have overlapping ingredients so that you are preparing some of the same things, and not spending hours in the kitchen. Some of the biggest inspiration for my meals when I was working in the hospital were from Fit Foodie Finds and Ambitious Kitchen’s blog.
- Break your meal prep into 2 sessions– If I had a weekend off from work I broke my meal prep up so that I didn’t have to take a huge chunk of time doing it when I could be enjoying my time off from work. For example- Saturday cook your protein and veggies and Sunday prepare your breakfasts and set aside all of your snacks. One of my favorite breakfasts to meal prep for work was banana bread overnight oats. I used to eat it in my car on my way in or eat at the nurses station as I was looking up my patient assignment for the day.
- Utilize the crockpot! Make your favorite chili or soup recipe. Those meals can go far! One crockpot recipe can account for 3 lunches at work plus you can freeze the rest and even have it the following week! I used to make this chili recipe all the time and have it throughout the week at work.
- Bring snacks to work that are easy to grab— yogurt, nut butter packets, protein bars, fruit, veggies, and hummus for when you don’t have time to sit down in the break room.
- Have dinner waiting for you in the fridge for when you get home. By having it prepared and ready in a container, you’re setting yourself up for success. Instead of coming home and binging on everything in site because you’re so tired and hungry after working 13+ hours, you’re more likely to eat what’s prepped.
- Have a little treat waiting for you when you get home– There are always donuts, candy, or baked goods in the break room at work but they’re usually not that good. I used to always tell myself to wait until I got home to have some ice cream or a piece of dark chocolate. It was my little treat that gave me something little to look forward to after a long day!
- Find a fitness routine that works for your schedule– You have to find what works best for your work shift and your commute. It took me a while to get into a good fitness routine with nursing. As I left one job and went to another it had to change based on my commute and shift at work.
- Find something that you enjoy– you’ll be more motivated to wake up at the crack of dawn for a workout that you like!
When I worked night shifts I initially thought it was a good idea for me to work out after work- well I was wrong. I felt like a zombie trying to go to the morning boot camp classes at the gym on my way home from working a 13 hour overnight shift. I decided to start working out before night shift. Out of my 3 night shifts for the week I chose to do 1 boot camp workout before work, 1 easy run before work, and 1 rest day before work. I was happy getting 2/3 workouts in on my workdays. When I switched to day shift but was still commuting an hour to work I changed my routine and started to workout after work. I joined a gym that was half way between work and home to break up my commute.
When I moved to California I was lucky enough to find a gym that had 5am classes near my apartment. It wasn’t always easy waking up for those 5am classes but it was time to myself that I needed before I spent the next 13 hours taking care of others. The gym had a cancellation fee too, so it was a good way to keep me accountable. It was also my social hour- my best friends worked out there, so it was nice to see them before my long day at work began.
I’ve been asked a few times how I woke up for 5am classes and didn’t crash at work later on. If I found myself starting to crash at work, I would walk a lap around the unit or ask someone to cover my patients (if I wasn’t super busy) so I could take a quick step outside to get some fresh air and wake up.
- My biggest tip for anyone who plans on exercising after work— find a quick and effective workout, such as a 20 min HIIT session. There’s no need to spend an hour in the gym when you’ve just spent 13 hours on your feet at work.
- If you don’t have the energy for a HIIT session after work, a restorative yoga class is always a nice way to wind down!
- It’s ok to take a rest day too! I know plenty of nurses who don’t work out on their work days and solely work out on their days off.
- How to resist the goodies in the break room- Bring your own! I always brought in a dark chocolate chip Perfect Bar to have as an afternoon snack at work. It kept me away from all the baked goods because Perfect Bars are like candy for me. Keep some healthy snacks in your locker at work- that way if you feel tempted by the treats, you have your own instead!
- And if you really want a treat in the break room- GO FOR IT! It’s ok to have them once in a while, just try not to make a habit of having them every shift.
- One of my biggest tips to break up the long work day- go for a walk outside on your lunch break OR eat lunch outside. SOAK UP THAT VITAMIN D! You’ll feel better knowing you spent a little time outside instead of spending 13 hours cooped up in the hospital!
- Drink plenty of water at work! We always make sure our patients drink enough fluids, but we don’t seem to do the same for ourselves. Some hospitals prevent nurses from carrying a water bottle in patient care areas because of infection control purposes. My recommendation is to set a timer on your phone to go off every few hours as a reminder to take a quick walk into the break room to drink water. I know a lot of nurses don’t like to drink water at work because then they end up spending too much time in the restroom. It’s so important to make sure you’re drinking enough water and not holding it. No one wants to end up with a UTI!
- I mentioned this earlier but keep healthy snacks on hand or in your locker at work in case the HANGER strikes!
- As nurses it’s hard to have a social life because we’re forced to work weekends and holidays and have random days off during the week- that’s why it’s important to find friends or reach out to people on similar schedules. Meet them for coffee, a hike, or even yoga class!
To sum everything up- MEAL PREP is key, find workouts that you enjoy and that fit with your schedule, take restorative breaks at work, find friends with a similar work schedule as you, keep healthy snack options in your locker, and remember to drink enough water! Hope these tips are helpful!