Nursing is a physically demanding position. Work-related musculoskeletal injuries are the most common non-fatal occupational injuries and account for countless missed workdays among employees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most cases are associated with service and social assistance industries, such as health care, with nursing occupations reporting a rate more than seven times the national average.

Due to the nature of the job, it isn’t hard to see why nurses have the greatest incidence of aches and pains. They spend hours on their feet and work with poor posture, repetitively leaning and bending over bedridden patients, as well as lifting and transferring heavy and slumped patients.

So, what’s the solution? Working out. While it’s impossible to prevent all workplace injuries, nurses who work out face far less injuries.

Alice Beckett-Rumberger, a licensed PT and owner of TheraFusion, says it’s important for nurses to incorporate working out into their schedules because of the fast-paced, stressful, dynamic environment the field of nursing can be.

“There are no regular schedule breaks because of the nature of taking care of other humans,” she says. “Regular exercises can help decrease stress, improve cardiac function, and provide flexibility and strength to handle the stresses of the nursing profession.”

Cardio and Strengthening Blend

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends cardio exercise between three and five days a week, depending on the intensity. Cardiovascular strength exercises build stamina and provide functional strengths for pushing and pulling. They are also great stress relievers. For a great routine that blends cardio with strengthening, like PiYo or Yogalates, Beckett-Rumberger recommends these exercises to get the heart pumping:

High knees

Stand in one place (or holding on to a chair) and slowly lift your right knee in the air so the knee is bent and lifts as high to the chest as possible, remembering to keep your thighs parallel to the ground. Keep your hands at your sides or add an arm swing in sync with the opposite leg. Repeat on the other leg. Perform for 10 minutes.

Sun salutations

Begin by standing and lifting arms into air then folding forward at waist to touch the floor. Then, walk your arms out to plank (either hold here or lower down to floor). Come back up to plank and go to down dog by lifting your buttocks towards the ceiling. Next, walk your feet to meet the hands, slowly roll your spine back up until you reach standing. Do this sequence three times while breathing in and out slowly.

Reverse lunges

For a cooldown, stand and bring the right foot backwards into a lunge position while raising both arms in the air, then return to standing position. Repeat each leg five times. Finish with standing or sitting and close your eyes and exhale and inhale three times.

The Classics

Christian Elliot, founder and CEO of TRUE Health and Wholeness, encourages nurses to incorporate working out into their schedules because regular exercise helps release important chemicals in the brain associated with clear thinking—thus reducing the possibility for errors in working with patients.

“Working out also gives nurses stronger muscles with an increased ability to stand for long periods of time, helps them be more prepared for lifting potentially heavy patients, and provides an overall positive sense of well-being and positive thinking that could make all the difference in passing along confidence to their patients who look to them for reasons to be confident about their own health,” says Elliot.

While he’s hesitant to prescribe exercises blindly, he believes the following three classic exercises are some of the most beneficial.

Walking lunges

Take alternating, giant steps and descend to the point just above where the back knee would touch the floor. Keep arms at sides or on hips. Repeat. About 50-100 reps with regularity will produce great leg strength for standing all day.


Safely picking up something heavy off the ground with a straight spine and slight to medium bend in the knees. They can be practiced in various ways, but are super effective developing deep-rooted strength and reducing the risk of injury.  Three sets of 10 is usually all it takes to build a good foundation.


This simultaneously develops upper body and core strength by sneaking a plank into the arm workout. Depending on ability level this could be anywhere from 10-100 reps performed in 3 sets of less. For those who have a hard time doing them on the floor, using an elevated platform for higher volume can be a great way to build up to more challenging sets. For any exercise regimen to produce much in the way of results, it needs to be at least three days a week.

Terah Shelton Harris
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