Clinical life can sometimes be overwhelming, leaving some of us with little down time to take care of our personal physical needs. But like any other needs, personal needs must be attended to otherwise there shall be consequences. Being a health care provider is a “brainy” job but there are physical aspects to it as well. Depending on your speciality (Orthopedic, Physical Therapist, Nursing, etc) you day to day activity can be pretty physical. The last thing anyone wants is to put themselves in physical danger while on the job. When I show up to work on any given day, I am mentally prepared to tackle on the challenges of the day. What I don’t expect to do is finish my shift with a back injury or be physically unable to take care of my patients who come in all shapes and sizes.
You may be surprised to know that the health care industry has one of the highest rates of work related injuries and illness. According to a recent OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) report, health care workers experienced seven times the national rate of musculoskeletal disorders compared to all other private sector workers. The majority of these injuries occurred during patient handling and movement, slips, trips and falls (also work place violence). So whether we are assisting a patient out of bed, running down the hall to assist in the “Code Blue” alert or carrying our lunch tray down the steps, we too are vulnerable to unintentional physical injuries at work. The only trip you take should be on vacation!
I am in the mindset what while I can’t prevent physical injury 100% from all walks of life, what I can do is partake in an overall physical preparedness strategy. Basically maintaining a baseline of fitness so that I can respond to physically challenges with limited harm. My injury prevention exercises focuses on improving the flexibility of my muscles and joints so as to have improved range of motion. Strength training and stability of small and large muscles so that they are ready to react a second’s notice. And also I work on my balance, agility and speed.
These exercises keep me mentally pre-occupied as well so no worries if you are going at it alone. They are also a cool way to bond with your fitness pal. I have a love-hate relationship with all these workouts, but what I like is that they allow me to mix things up and challenge my body differently thus addressing 5 key components: strength training, flexibility, core exercise, balance training and cardio.
Hot Yoga– Being a mind-body practice, a number of studies have shown that yoga helps relieve stress and anxiety. Working in a busy ER, one thing I know and get a lot of is stress. Something about the dim lights, the soft music, calming voice of the instructor and the breathing pattern of yoga just melts away stress and helps re-focus my mind, even if just for 1hour. Hot yoga classes are heated to 37C. The poses also help improve my balance and flexibility. I have tight muscles mostly in my legs (hamstrings) and after walking all day, these legs get super tight and need stretching. The flow sequence in each class helps to improve my function with other activities (TRX, Spin, etc).
Barre– This is where I unleash my inner Misty! This class is mix elements of dance, yoga, pilates and functional training. Last Fall I tried Barre for the first time thinking it would be an easy 1hr workout. Wrong! I knew I was hooked because later that night as I walked around, my thighs started quivering. This type of exercise is relatively low impact on your joints but tough on your muscles. It helps with posture, helps with range of motion and targets both large and small muscles groups.
Strength Training– Yoga and Barre won’t give me functional strength (e.g. to reduce joint dislocations, help move a large pt up in bed, etc) or a cardio boost but they are great addition to my repertoire, especially if I want to have a light exercise day. For strength training, I take a 1hr high intensity group class using weights, TRX suspension, kettle bells & other modalities to sculpt lean muscles. Focus is on controlled movements using heavy weights. For those who believe in body typing, I am what is considered an Ectomorph, thus I need to lift heavier weights to see significant change.
When working with weights, I have benefited from having a personal trainer who has helped me avoid self-injury by teaching me proper form and technique when it comes to lifting weight. The last thing you want to do is injury yourself while exercising. If you workout at the gym, ask for trainer assistance when it comes to using new machines or using heavier weights. Listen to your body as well, nothing you do should hurt. And it goes beyond saying that you talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program especially if any of the following apply: you have heart disease/asthma or lung disease/type 1 or type 2 diabetes/kidney disease/arthritis/being treated for cancer, or you have recently completed cancer treatment.
Taking care of our bodies is an investment, and as healthcare providers it is important that we dedicate some time to this activity in order to better meet the demands of our work environment and decrease vulnerability.
Have you tried any of these activities? or do you have recommendations for other methods to help increase physical preparedness? Please share