Fitness for Busy Nurses

Fitness for busy nurses

As nurses, we are the face of healthcare. Frequently touted as the most trusted healthcare team member, we are sought-after sources of health information. With long shifts, irregular schedules, and physically demanding work, it’s easy to neglect your own well-being. Fitness for busy nurses is often a challenge. For years, survey studies have repeatedly indicated that more than half of registered nurses are overweight or obese, increasing the risk of cardiometabolic disease and injury.  

Nurses often cite time, fatigue, and the availability of unhealthy food options as barriers to health-promoting behaviors. Yet, taking care of yourself is essential not only for your own health but also for providing the best care possible for your patients. Here are some quick tips for staying healthy and fit as a busy nurse. 

Recommended course: Boundaries and Burnout: Strategies for Nurses to Maintain Self

Make small changes often 

Starting an exercise program or changing your diet can seem overwhelming, so start small. Research has shown that even 20-second bursts of exercise can increase fitness. Can you run up the stairs instead of taking the elevator? Consider setting your alarm clock to just 10 minutes earlier. Do some quick exercises in your living room or use the time to pack healthy food for lunch. 

Can you set an alarm at night to remind yourself to do 10 minutes of yoga before bed to wind down and relax? Find yourself scrolling social media? Put the phone down and do 10 squats instead. These small changes will add up and increase your fitness over time.  

Check your resources 

Many health insurance plans will pay for gym memberships or reward members who document healthy behaviors with prizes or discounts. If you prefer the comfort of your own home, there are endless workouts for free online. Try Zumba one day and strength training the next without leaving home!  

Find a buddy 

Having an accountability buddy can be a big motivator. Compare steps, compete, or just share encouragement. If no one in your social group is interested, join a group online to gain insight, tips, and tricks for keeping to your plan. You can also partner with the American Nurses Association via their Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation program that seeks to improve the health of American nurses by connecting nurses with resources, informational content, and each other!  

The stress, schedules, and busy lives of nurses can make prioritizing your own health a challenge. It takes dedication and effort, but you will provide better care for others when you yourself are well. By making small changes often, using your resources, and building accountability, you can achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle fit for a nurse.  


  • Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation. Information available at: 
  • Jenkins, E. M., et al. (2019). Do stair climbing exercise “snacks” improve cardiorespiratory fitness?. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 44(6): 681-684. 
  • For information on the 7-minute workout: Klika, Brett C.S.C.S., B.S.; Jordan, Chris M.S., C.S.C.S., NSCA-CPT, ACSM HFS/APT. High-intensity circuit training using body weight: Maximum results with minimal investment. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal 17(3):p 8-13, May/June 2013. | DOI: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e31828cb1e8 
  • Mielke, G. I., Menezes, A. M. B., DA Silva, B. G. C., Ekelund, U., Crochemore-Silva, I., Wehrmeister, F. C., Gonçalves, H., & Brown, W. J. (2021). Associations between Device-measured Physical Activity and Cardiometabolic Health in the Transition to Early Adulthood. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 53(10), 2076–2085. 
  • Ross, A., Touchton-Leonard, K., Perez, A., Wehrlen, L., Kazmi, N., & Gibbons, S. (2019). Factors That Influence Health-Promoting Self-care in Registered Nurses: Barriers and Facilitators. ANS. Advances in nursing science, 42(4), 358–373. 

About the author

Margaret (Molly) Salinas PhD, MS, APRN, FNP-C

Margaret Salinas, PhD, MS, APRN, FNP-C is a writer and nurse practitioner located in southeastern WI. With 10 years of NP experience, she currently sees patients in the urgent care setting. With 15 years in nursing, she has varied inpatient and outpatient experience. Margaret is passionate about gathering patient stories and environmental causes. When she’s not driving the soccer carpool, you can find her busy at work in her garden.