woman running in nature

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of so many around the world. In particular, it has taken a toll on our frontline healthcare professionals who are working day in and day out to care for those who are sick.

If you are a health care worker, taking care of yourself can seem almost impossible during this time. And when you get home, it’s just too tempting to crash on the couch — maybe for a day or two. By the time you feel energized again, you’re heading back to work for another 12-hour shift.

If this sounds familiar, maybe it’s time for a change in your routine—especially if you aren’t exercising regularly. Exercise increases blood flow, improves circulation, boosts endorphin levels in the brain and leaves you feeling energized and less fatigued. 

The good news is that all activity, not just what we think of as exercise, counts toward your physical activity goal, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Aim for at least 22 minutes per day or 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity or exercise. 

Here are a few tips to help you incorporate physical activity into your life—even when you don’t feel like it.

Sneak exercise into your day

If you can’t take a brisk walk around the neighborhood, consider:

  • Taking the stairs every opportunity you get.
  • Parking in a spot that’s furthest from your work entrance, the grocery store, etc.
  • Walking more steps each day. Start from your baseline and add more steps each day. The overall health benefit will come from adding more steps over time. In a recent study of 17,000 women, those who walked about 4500 steps per day had better health outcomes than those walking 2500 steps per day.  
  • Taking time for a mini-workout—even if it’s only for five to 10 minutes. See if you can squeeze in some squats, lunges or shoulder rolls during your shift or while at home.  

The American College of Sports Medicine Guidelines for Aerobic Exercise say to build up to at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise. Your starting point can be five-minute sessions, three times per day to increase gradually to 30 minutes per day.

Here’s a quick five-minute body weight circuit that you can do anywhere:

  • 20 seconds high knees
  • 20 seconds “bench” dips (use a chair, step or whatever you have to elevate)
  • 20 seconds squats
  • 20 seconds push-ups (modify to knees or elevate hands on chair or desk)
  • 20 seconds rest

Repeat that series three times and give yourself a pat on the back for a five-minute workout.

Make technology work for you

Want to do a different seven-minute workout every day? Participate in a 30-day fitness challenge? Learn some new yoga poses? Yeah, there’s an app for that. Hundreds of them, in fact, and many are free. 

If you’re into “wearable” tech, check out the many fitness tracker options. These gadgets track heart rate, sleep patterns, exercise goals and so much more. Some are Bluetooth-enabled and can sync with an app on your smartphone, which makes it easier for you to see and use the information. 

If you’re not quite ready for that, take advantage of the health app that may already be on your phone. Samsung Health and Google Fit apps track data including steps and calories. Apple phones come with the Health app, which tracks fitness activity, with or without the help of a smartwatch. 

Maximize workout time on your days off

Just can’t imagine working out before or after a 12-hour shift? Totally understandable. And that’s okay—experts say that exercising at least three times a week can provide health benefits. That leaves you with four days a week to get the job done. Try these ideas:

  • Schedule your workouts with a friend. Accountability improves your chances of success.
  • Find an aerobic activity you enjoy. Join a volleyball club, try a new fitness class at the gym, dust off your bike and zip around the neighborhood… you get the idea.
  • Dress for success. Comfortable shoes, stylish leggings and tops, even a cool armband holder for your phone… they’re all part of a workout wardrobe that can help motivate you to get out there and get fit.

Most importantly, don’t put off starting an exercise routine. The energy you gain will carry you through the entire day—even when you’re working 12 hours straight!

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