Ever wonder if the tens of thousands of steps that a nurse walks every day should count as an aerobic workout, that she doesn’t need to train on a treadmill, take step classes or jog in the park?
I’m a former certified personal trainer who witnessed all the steps (and fast ones at that), that nurses accumulate while making their rounds, when my mother and father underwent various medical procedures.
And I definitely have something to say about all the walking that nurses do every day.
In order for cardio exercise to produce a training effect, it must, quite simply speaking, get you winded.
If you’re not getting winded, you’re not getting much of a training effect. I’m a firm believer in walking briskly whenever you have to walk from Point A to Point B.
But this is no substitute for a structured, 30 minute cardio exercise session that gets you heavily breathing.
Walking all day on the job is no match for HIIT.
The best form of cardio exercise is high intensity interval training (HIIT).
HIIT is so effective, that even a 12-hour shift of mostly walking and being on one’s feet can’t hold a flame to just 20 minutes of HIIT.
You can walk endlessly during a nurse shift and still will not burn as much fat as a few HIIT sessions per week.
This is because HIIT triggers a hormonal response that accelerates fat-burning, 24 hours a day.
However, what about nurses who aren’t interested in weight loss, but believe that all the walking they do is sufficient for maintaining a good level of fitness?
Let’s try a non-technical approach to explaining why a lot of walking on the job is not the path to physical fitness.
If you’re a nurse who believes all the walking you do replaces structured cardio sessions (e.g., HIIT, step class, spin class, jogging, brisk hill walking, cardio DVDs), then take a test to find out the truth:
Put a treadmill at 15 percent, the speed at 3 mph (yes, only 3 mph), and walk WITHOUT holding on. See if you can go for 10 minutes. And if so, how do you feel?
Or, put the treadmill at 6 mph, zero incline, and jog; see if you can go for five minutes.
Find five flights of stairs at the hospital where you’re a nurse, and run up them as fast as possible one step at a time. At the top of the fifth flight, are you very out of breath? Or was it easy?
Sprint across the hospital parking lot. CAN you?
These examples are short duration tests. What about a long duration test? Take a step aerobics class.
How long can you go before you absolutely must stop and rest, meaning, cease following the instructor?
If you can go nonstop without struggling, how many risers are you working with? One? Try two or three.
When a nurse walks all day on the job (and the baseline for most nurses is a perky pace), there is no progressive element.
- The pace never gets faster.
- The corridors always stay flat.
- There’s nothing to jump over.
- No inclines.
- You can sprint the corridor while on the job, even though there are times when nurses do indeed jog — but it’s very short duration.
Thus, the environment limits what the nurse can actually do. The body of a brand new nurse who is not used to all the walking will eventually acclimate to all the walking.
There is no more progression beyond the initial getting used to a lot of walking on flat floors.
Aching feet are not a sign of a good workout and are often a sign of bad footwear.
A nurse, like everyone else, needs to engage in consistent, structured cardio exercise.
In fact, if a nurse makes HIIT a part of her life, this will give her tons more energy on the job.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.