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Exercising around a non 9-5 job.

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

When your job involves shift work, getting the fitness and nutrition your body needs can be a tricky task. This is even more of a challenge if you are new to shift work and are used to set hours.

When I first joined the Ambulance Service I failed miserably at this, I gained weight and started to eat very unhealthy foods, to accommodate the stress I was experiencing. This led me to gain over 3 stone, and it is only with the tips I am going to share with you below, that I was able to undo this weight gain and improve my health and well-being.

Tip 1 – Firstly do not put too much pressure on yourself to be all things. Start off with focusing on your down time, do not try to work out or plan meals around your working days. This needs to be a gradual move, expecting to jump into a full-blown lifestyle change is going to lead to overwhelm, which in turn will lead to failure. For the first month utilise your days off to focus on workouts and food you can build into these rest days, that will give you energy and de-stress your mind and be enjoyable.

Tip 2 - Change 1 thing per day. Pick a new workout, add a new vegetable into your dinner or change the way you usually cook a vegetable to see if you can make it taste better. Small steps lead to big jumps.

Tip 3 – Focus on where your energy is whilst at work. Is it at the start of your shift or at the end of it? By understanding your energy levels, you will see where you need to focus your attention for sustained energy whilst on shift. If you struggle at the start, you may want to drink a smoothie on your way into work or work out before shift as this will release endorphins. If its in the middle of the day, you may want to pack some energy bars (see my recipe cards for details). This will also give you an idea of when you might want to add some extra training in to your working days, see where it could give you more energy but also where it would be detrimental and make you more tired with a lower output.

Tip 4 – Take time to add relaxation to your day. One of the best ways to reduce weight is to keep your Cortisol levels down. If you work in a stressful environment i.e. a Police officer or a Paramedic, you will not only be around stressful environments, but also have adrenaline rushes. All of these will affect your Cortisol levels leading you to gain weight, crave sugar and snack. Not everyone is going to do Yoga or Meditate to achieve this relaxation. Some people might want to do boxing, trampolining, horse riding, walking a dog or watching their favourite show. Whatever you can do to give your body some downtime and relax, do it.

Tip 5 – Don’t give in to peer pressure or try to people please. FOMO is the quickest way to fall back into bad habits, you don’t always have to follow the crowd, everyone has their priorities, and you must decide what yours is. It is so easy to eat the cake or cookies that happen to be around you as it’s someone’s birthday, but is that going to assist your goals? How are you going to feel afterwards? If you are in a good place to change your diet, tell your crew mate or the people in your office. This way they might not bring it in, bring in alternatives or might not try and temp you into eating it.

Shift work doesn’t have to make a healthy lifestyle impossible, but you will hit a few obstacles at the beginning. Don’t let them divert your goals, just jump over them and carry on, you will feel so much better for it in the end.

Stay happy, stay healthy, Gem x

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