Spending hours on their feet, racing from room to room and lifting patients twice their size, nurses are both athletes and caregivers. How cool is that? Very, until lifting Mr.Super-Size becomes the proverbial straw that breaks the nurse's back. The cost of treating these patient-handling injuries comes close to $1 billion, annually, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It's time for the healer to heal herself with a targeted exercise program.
Aerobic Strength and Endurance
Your nursing schedule demands aerobic endurance but don't rely on your job to keep you fit. Instead, get fit to efficiently do your job. Otherwise, you'll face the three D's -- depletion of energy, depression from exposure to sickness and disease from a compromised immune system -- that come with the profession. Aerobic exercise enhances mood, energy level and immunity, says Mayo Clinic staff. That's probably why the American College of Sports Medicine suggests 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes, five days a week, or vigorous cardio sessions for 20 minutes, three times weekly.
Types of Aerobic Exercise
Since a nursing shift demands a stop and start type of aerobic endurance, interval training best suits your profession. Warm up for 15 minutes, then run, bike, row or use any cardio machine for three minutes at 80 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate, or at an eight on a one to 10 perceived exertion scale. Take three minutes of active recovery, which keeps you moving at an easy pace, then repeat the three minutes on and three minutes off pattern for three or four cycles.
The Importance of Squats
The squat encourages teamwork among your glutes, hamstrings and quads. Your body relies on these muscles when you help your patients move in and out of bed. Strengthening them alleviates stress on other muscle groups often overworked when lifting patients, such as your deltoids, trapezius and lower back muscles. As a weight-bearing exercise, squats maintain bone density, lowering your risk of developing osteoporosis and increasing career longevity. Squats fall into the compound exercise category, meaning that they multitask different muscle groups simultaneously: exactly as nurses do when tending to patients.
Upper Body Routine
Heaven help the nurse who uses a biceps curling action when attempting to lift a patient. In fact, never in your nursing career will you use muscle isolation movements, so keep them out of your workout. Exercises such as chinups, pushups and dips engage all of the muscles of your upper body. Weight training exercises such as the military press strengthen your shoulders. The bent-over barbell row strengthens your upper back while simultaneously engaging your lower-body muscles. Do three weekly upper-body workouts weekly, performing three sets of 12 reps. Work your core with planks, saving time over standard crunches and twists. Start doing planks resting on your forearms, progressing to a standard pushup position on your hands with your arms straight. Work up to two planks per session that you hold for at least 60 seconds.
The circuit training format -- which alternates two to five minute strength and aerobic segments -- should feel familiar to nurses, who race to patients' rooms, then lift the patients. Incorporate leg and upper body exercises, and maintain your heart rate with dynamic, large muscle toning exercises. The lateral band walk, for example, works your outer thighs, while providing mild, low-impact aerobic activity. Wrap a band around your ankles, and take eight side steps to the right and eight to the left.
In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.