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Fitting Your Fitness Regime Around Variable Work Shifts

Nearly 15 million Americans work a permanent night shift or regularly rotate in and out of night shifts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ensuring you stay fit and healthy while working round the clock can be a challenge as anyone who works in the military, healthcare, call centers, the utilities, public safety, transportation, and manufacturing, among many other professions can attest to. Shift work plays havoc with routine and sleep patterns, but the good news is that you don’t have to let it ruin your fitness regime; it just requires some organization to make sure you fit in time for exercise and stay in tip-top shape both physically and mentally.

Working shifts can play havoc with your health

Irregular sleep patterns can cause all sorts of problems for shift workers – causing negative effects on health, fitness and sleep patterns. Delaying meals because of working shifts can mess with your internal body clock and circadian systems.  But if you can’t avoid shift work then the importance of a good diet, a calm sleeping environment, and a regular exercise regime becomes even greater. Remember that exercise isn’t just for your physical health – it’s about protecting your mental health too. Remember, it isn’t essential to push yourself to the max – even gentle forms like yoga or going for a walk help protect against depression.

Make time to fit exercise in

Exercise and physical-fitness routines can go by the wayside when you work an irregular schedule, but with some judicious planning, you can build a workout routine into any schedule. There are various options as to timing and different approaches will work for different people:

Upon waking: Ideal if you like training first thing when your body is refreshed and rested.  Works equally well for work and rest days.

Before work: Good if you prefer exercising once you’ve been up for a while. The downside is that training just before a shift can make you feel tired at work.

After workThis tends to be the least popular option for understandable reasons. Energy levels are often low and training just before bed can make it tricky to get to sleep right away.

No set time scheduleHaving no set training time allows for flexibility, but it also makes it far more likely that workouts will be missed altogether.

At workFitting a workout in your break or during your shift time can be a great choice if it works for you. Stand up at your desk if you can; mix up standing and sitting. Take a walk around the office and make sure you use the stairs a lot.

What should exercise look like?

You don’t have to go to a gym; you can work out at home before your shift starts with a straightforward workout involving squats, press ups, and planks, for instance. A brisk walk or a swim would do the job too. From an efficiency point of view, strength training gives the biggest bang for your buck. So, if your time is limited, and your focus is staying healthy and/or losing weight, you might want to focus on strength training.

The bottom line is you don’t need to use your job as an excuse to let your exercise goals slip. Remember – you are in control and even small changes that you make will help. Focus on what your schedule allows you to do– not what you can’t manage; Stay active when you can; flexibility is key and every little bit counts. Maintaining a proper fitness regime will keep you strong physically and mentally as well as helping with your sleep patterns. Finally, exercising can improve brain function to lead to better performance at work. Just another reason to make sure you commit to staying fit.