5 Tips for Exercising in Nursing School

Exercise is one of the best things you can do to stay healthy as a student nurse — it reduces stress, improves your sleep quality, and boosts your immune system. Regular workouts can also keep the dreaded freshman 15 (pounds, that is) at bay. But after your first semester, every student discovers the same thing: exercising in nursing school is hard.

Though it can be challenging to find the time to move, it’s worth the effort. The benefits of exercise are huge for nursing students. The trick? Work out in a way that feels good and manageable. Don’t worry if that sounds impossible — we can help.

Need more ideas? Check out our tips for eating healthy in nursing school.

1. Do homework or study while you exercise

When your to-do list is a million miles long, fitness often gets put on the back burner. Multitasking is the easiest way to find time to exercise in nursing school. At the beginning of the week, make a list of things you can do while exercising. That way, you’ll get more done and still get in a workout.

Things you can do for nursing school while exercising:

  • Listen to a recorded nursing class lecture
  • Read a chapter from a e-textbook (rest your tablet on the treadmill rack)
  • Use flashcards or a flashcard app to study for an exam
  • Run through NCLEX practice questions
  • Watch YouTube nursing skills videos to prep for clinicals

2. Avoid high-intensity workouts when you’re exhausted

High-intensity workouts are great for burning calories and releasing stress — unless you’re already exhausted from nursing school. When you’re running on minimal sleep and stressed to the breaking point, a high-intensity workout can do more damage than good. It’ll leave you feeling awful and even more worn out. Then, you won’t have the motivation to exercise and your classwork will suffer.

When you’re tired, always opt for lower-intensity workouts. If you have a smartwatch or a heart-rate monitor, choose activities that keep your heart rate in Zone 2. This is different for everyone, but a few good options are: gentle yoga, a power walk instead of a run, slow lap swimming (or kickboard laps), or Zumba. Group fitness classes are fine as long as you do the easier modification.

If you ever get to the point where your body feels like it’s barely making it through the day, do yourself a favor — skip the workout and take a nap instead!

3. Prioritize 7-8 hours of sleep over exercising in nursing school

If you have the choice between getting a good night’s sleep (7-8 hours) or doing a workout, opt for the sleep every single time. According to the Cleveland Clinic, too little sleep hurts your memory, leaves you feeling less alert, and increases stress — not ideal when you’re juggling Med Surg and clinicals.

Plus, when you’re tired, you tend to overeat and make unhealthy food choices. When you get enough sleep, you’ll perform better in class and have the energy to squeeze in extra steps or a few squats.

4. Fit in mini walks throughout the day — by force, if necessary

Walking is one of the best ways to squeeze in exercise during a busy day in nursing school. You don’t have to change clothes or go anywhere special — that’s huge when you’re pressed for time. Plus, you can do it no matter what your fitness level.

It sounds easy, but “walk more” is harder than it seems. When you’re busy and stressed, it’s really easy to let yourself slide. The secret? Make it unavoidable and fun.

Here are some ways to work in extra steps in nursing school:

  • Park in the farthest parking space when you get to campus; then, you have no choice but to walk back at the end of the day.
  • Get in some socializing by asking a friend to take a 15-minute walk with you. The laughter is a great stress-buster!
  • Instead of snacking or sitting in the commons on breaks, stroll outside in the sunshine.
  • Do a walking study session with a classmate. You can take turns asking and answering practice questions. 
  • Clear your head during a library marathon with 5 minutes of stair climbing or walking every hour.
  • Register for classes on opposite ends of campus so you have to walk.
  • If you’re competitive, challenge yourself to take 2,000 more steps than your daily average.

5. Sacrifice one Netflix show for a workout

TV is a great way to relax and zone out after a long day. If you find yourself watching more than 30 minutes per day, however, you definitely have time to exercise! Turn off Netflix and spend that time doing any type of activity.

The actual activity doesn’t matter — the best workout is the one you’re willing and able to do. Don’t want to go to the gym? Put on a YouTube workout and convince your roommates to join in. (HIIT workouts give you a serious calorie burn; we also love this cardio Latin dance workout.) Can’t give up your TV time? Bring your tablet to the gym and watch your show while you’re on the treadmill or exercise bike. Even 20 minutes of working out is better than nothing, and you’ll feel better afterward.

Exercising in nursing school isn’t always easy, but it’s 100% worth the effort. Your clothes will fit better, you’ll sleep more soundly, and you’ll stay healthier.