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How to Exercise at Work on Night Shift

If your shift work schedule already feels chaotic and exhausting, how are you supposed to add exercise on top of it? Here's how to use your middle-of-the-night breaks to fit in some extra movement.

Physical activity can change our attitude toward our work, our team, and even ourselves. Movement can improve our mood, focus, productivity, and even time management. It can also make us resilient in the face of stress. Physical activity doesn’t mean you need to push yourself to the absolute limit. It means finding time to move your body in ways that feel good.


Get moving on your commute

If possible, walk or bike to work. If you work far away, try walking for 20 minutes before getting on transit, or get off a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way. For those who drive to work—you can do this too! Try parking further away than usual for a little extra walking time.

Work out during your breaks

Take a few minutes during your downtime to take a brisk walk, hike a few flights of stairs, or do some gentle stretching. Leave a foam mat in the break room or in your locker for extra comfort. (Weird but useful tip: If you work in a hospital, you can do push-ups with gloves on!)

Skip the elevator

When time and energy permit, try taking the stairs. People pay good sums of money on exercise machines that duplicate the workout that comes from climbing stairs—and the stairs at your building are free to use.

Run the stairs

Here’s a quick and effective workout that can be done in empty stairwells during night shift. Here we go! Try this workout session that takes less than 10 minutes:

  • Warm up for 2 minutes by slowly walking up and down the stairs.
  • Safely increase your speed, climbing the steps for 20 seconds. Head back down slowly.
  • Walk the hallway for two minutes.
  • Quickly climb the stairs for another 20 seconds. Head back down slowly.
  • Walk for two more minutes.
  • Quickly climb the stairs for a final 20 seconds. Head back down slowly.
  • Cool down with 3 minutes of stair and corridor walking.

Take the long way

There are always small errands that need to be run: the paperwork, the forms, the coffee, the printer paper. By volunteering to do errands, you’ll be productive while getting a bonus boost of movement. If you need to deliver something to another department, take it yourself if possible.

Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther away from your entrance, or use the bathroom at the far end of the building. Instead of calling a coworker, walk to their desk. All those little breaks add up!

Stand up for yourself

Get out of that chair! Stand and walk while talking on the phone. Or try a standing desk, improvising with a high table or counter if you need to. It’s important to take regular breaks from sitting. You don’t need to stand all night (which can also cause back pain), but try standing for 20 minutes every hour. 

Keep fitness gear at work

Keep a stash of resistance bands—stretchy cords that offer weight-like resistance when you pull on them—or small hand weights in your locker or desk drawer. Bring an exercise mat to stretch or stand on. Stash a water bottle and a comfortable pair of shoes in your desk. Make sure your earphones are charged. Keep some energy bites handy for post-workout nutrition. Wear reflective strips if you’re going out into the dark for a walk or run.

Stretch it out

Incorporate stretches into your night shift. Torso twists, leg lunges, shoulder stretches, chest openers, and wrist circles are all great for those of us sitting at a desk. 

Grab a buddy

You’re probably not the only one trying to fit in some extra movement at work. Grab some like-minded colleagues and form a stretching club that meets before your shift or a running club that heads out for a quick jog on your midnight break. It can be as simple as doing squats or planks together. 

The camaraderie is great and you can hold each other accountable for regular physical activity—and offer some cheerleading to one another when the going gets tough.

Take a walk

Sitting at your desk for hours on end can make you feel sluggish, but there’s an easy solution. Take a walk! Whether you’re walking around the room while on a conference call or heading outside on your lunch break, try to find the best way for you to work it into your day. Getting your heart rate up will help give you an energy boost and keep the good ideas flowing.


Shift workers in the wild

Want to hear from another shift worker? Here’s a helpful comment left on the blog post “It’s a Big Ol’ Pile of ‘Shift’ Work”. (Edited for clarity and conciseness.)

“I’ve been working the night shift as a Nurse Practitioner in an ICU for two years. I ride my bike to and from work. I developed a little workout plan with a coworker of mine. We’d assign ourselves a mini workout at the beginning of the shift based on the orders we would write for patients. For example, we had to do 15 seconds of planking for every electrolyte replacement we ordered for a patient. I may do this 15 times in a shift, so this equates to almost 4 minutes of planking.

It helped pick us up a bit during the 3 a.m. drag and other times we felt really tired. We also sneak into the medical resident gym and do a few cleans or bicep curls as our break, rather than eating, smoking, etc. And there are always stairs to climb!”—Mallory


Routines don’t become routines in a day. Start slowly. Be patient with yourself as you figure out how to add physical activity to your night shift in a way that will become a sustainable routine. Forget stressing about the details. Find what feels best and what you enjoy. Sweat it out when it works for you. The bottom line is to just get moving! 

How do you squeeze fitness into your night shift? Any tips or tricks to add to this list? Please add your suggestions below in the comments section.


Last updated: 2024-03-09

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Lauren McGill

I work at the intersection of healthcare and storytelling. As a medical writer, I help healthcare experts publish content so they stand out as thought leaders.

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