Everyone knows that exercise is good for you – this is nothing new. Being a shift worker, I have found it difficult to find both the time and motivation to exercise regularly. You know you feel terrible right now, you know you’ll feel better, sleep better and generally feel less stressed if you exercise – but somehow, you can’t get off the couch. Next thing you know you’ve sat around for three hours after your early shift, scrolling Instagram, and are possibly feeling worse than before. Believe me, I understand and have been there many times myself.
So many mornings I have set my alarm, only to turn it off as soon as it goes off. I tell myself ‘I’m too tired to exercise’ or ‘I’ll feel better if I lay in bed just that half hour longer.’ Unsurprisingly, I usually feel no better after that extra hour of lying around waiting to get up.
I have never been consistent with my exercise routine until this year. I was always ‘all or nothing’ in my approach, either spending an hour on the elliptical seven days a week (never weight training) and on some form of ‘diet’ or having the most exercise I’d do at week be my steps at worked – followed by McDonalds because ‘I’d earnt it’. Letting go of this all or nothing approach is what has really helped me be consistent with my routine. I don’t over exercise anymore, I listen to my body, I have rest days and I know that if I skip a few days it’s not the end of the world and the best thing to do is just get right back into routine! Here are some things that have helped me develop a regular fitness routine (that I actually stick to!) around shift work and study…
Have a goal – if you are exercising solely to change your body (e.g. get ‘skinnier’, ‘toned’, ‘muscly’) you will most likely find that you soon lose motivation and go back to your old ways. This is not a goal that is sustainable in the long term, as you may go through periods where you stop seeing results and are then more likely to give up. Instead, it’s great to focus on fitness, strength and endurance related goals. For example, instead of saying ‘I want to get skinny for summer’ you could set a goal of being able to squat 10kg, or run for five minutes without stopping,
Change your mindset – instead of thinking ‘I have to exercise’ or ‘I’m exercising because I hate the way I look’ work on changing your thoughts. As soon as I started thinking along the lines of ‘I love to exercise because I love the way it decreases my stress levels’, or ‘I love to exercise because of the way it makes me feel’ I found that I was much more motivated. Instead of punishing your body with gruelling workouts because you want to look a certain way, focus on how exercise helps you feel good both physically and emotionally. Write a list of the benefits you get and use these as motivation.
Call in a professional – my exercise routine totally changed for the better once I started seeing a personal trainer once a week. I had honestly always thought personal training was a waste of money, and you could just get the same results with guides online. I’m very happy to admit that I was wrong, I had no motivation to actually get past the second week of a guide! Personal training keeps me accountable, helps me learn proper technique and new exercises and gives me a measurable way of tracking my results.
Find what you love – there is no point in forcing yourself to do exercise you absolutely hate. Eventually, you will end up giving up on it, or on exercise altogether! Find something you love to do, and don’t feel like you have to be confined to the gym. I love going for walks outside, it gives me mental clarity as well as being a type of exercise and therefore I happily integrate it into my daily routine. Although I love the gym, I know it’s not for everyone. Some people struggle with motivation and might benefit more from a group fitness session such as an outdoor bootcamp or f45 classes. Other people might prefer pilates or hot yoga. Find what works for you and your body, and you know you will stick with.
Know the benefits – shift work is so stressful on the mind and body, and exercise can help us to manage this stress. You will find you’ll sleep better, your mood will improve and you’ll become stronger and fitter with a regular exercise routine. I know that many shift workers get up their steps at work, however it is so important to take the time out to do something for yourself – this will help you to clear your mind and the endorphins will improve your emotional state. Yes, you may have reached your 10,000 steps before lunchtime but this was all done in the stressful environment of your workplace – not exactly conducive to relaxation, endorphins and stress relief. By exercising you are able to have a solid amount of time that is dedicated to you and only you. It’s not just about the physical benefits, but also the mental and emotional. By taking the time to care for yourself and your body, you will be a better employee, a better friend, sister, brother, mother, father…the list goes on.
Plan ahead – Make sure you make the time for exercise around your shifts. I have a weekly planner and I write my shifts and my planned workouts in each week. I might not always get to all of them, but if I do miss one I just get straight back into my routine the next day.
Be disciplined – I’m not all about forcing yourself through workouts you hate, but sometimes you just need to get in there and get it done. I don’t always feel like working out – I’ll make up every excuse in the book to get out of it, but I know that I always, always feel better after working out. I am working on remaining disciplined, and getting my workouts and walks in because I know that my body deserves to be treated well. I know that my mind is so much clearer after a workout, and I am so much less stressed. Yes, some days you do need a rest day…but other days you just need to suck it up and get it done…I promise you’ll feel so much better afterwards!
Having said that…
Balance – as a former over exerciser I can tell you that this is the fastest way to burn yourself out, put stress on your body and basically ensure that in a few weeks you’ll probably be so off exercise that you won’t work out for another four months…until the cycle starts again! Don’t jump into it with an all or nothing approach. If you’re new to fitness start out incorporating some walks into your day, maybe try a few gym sessions or a yoga class. Then, work your way up from there. Doing this ensures that you are creating sustainable lifelong habits that will benefit your mind and your body!
Stop hating your body – our bodies are absolutely amazing and we are lucky to have them! Working in the hospital environment we so often see people who are unable to use their bodies to their full functionality. They would absolutely kill to be able to walk around with no limitations like we do! Whenever I start to get caught up in appearance I remember that I am so lucky to have a functioning body, and grateful for the privilege to walk, run, lift weights, stretch, do yoga…everything! This helps to keep everything in check and remind me not to get too caught up in appearance…it’s all about progress not perfection!
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