Fitness Tips for Shift Workers: Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle Amidst Irregular Schedules -
Written by Vic Toffan

If you’ve ever worked shift work or a rotating schedule before, you’ll know that it can significantly impact your ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle. As a paramedic and fitness enthusiast, I know that long and irregular shifts, disrupted sleep patterns and irregular eating patterns can increase the already challenging journey for shift workers to prioritize their fitness, nutrition and well-being.

With careful planning and the implementation of a few adjustments, it is possible for shift workers to maintain a fitness journey, even while working unconventional shifts. In this article we will explore some effective tips specifically tailored for shift workers.

Prioritize Sleep

Sleep disruption can disturb the balance of hormones that regulate appetite, leading to increased hunger and cravings for high-calorie foods. When chronically sleep deprived Ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, usually increases while Leptin, a hormone that signals fullness, decreases. When these hormones are in balance, it's much easier to follow a healthy diet, as hunger is reduced and typically better food choices are made.

Sleep deprivation also plays a role in regulating our metabolism. Lack of sleep can negatively impact metabolic processes such as glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, leading to higher blood sugar levels. Hyperglycemia may lead to energy crashes and cravings for carbs/sweets when that crash happens. This can lead to a vicious cycle of reaching for quick carbs/energy, energy levels crashing, and so on.

Lastly, ensuring that you’ve had adequate sleep can help regulate cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol is associated with increased appetite and fat storage and is typically higher in those who work rotating schedules or who have a Circadian Rhythm Disorder.

To ensure that your body is in a state where you can thrive on a fitness journey, it is absolutely critical to prioritize sleep, ensuring that weight loss/muscle gain is reached more easily and efficiently.


Maintaining a healthy diet is essential for shift workers but irregular schedules and not having the time to eat can increase the temptation to rely on “quick,” unhealthy foods.

One of the most common ways to tackle nutrition is with macronutrient tracking, but this can quickly become confusing when swapping from days to nights, etc. To simplify macronutrient tracking, macro budgets should be tracked from midnight to midnight for shift workers. This not only allows you to ensure that you’re fueling your body for your shift (day or night), but that you’re also able to quantify your food intake and adjust your intake based on your goals.

Planning in advance is crucial, especially during busy blocks of work. Consider batch cooking on your days off and portioning out meals that can easily be reheated at work. When creating meals, ensure that you’re not only staying within your macronutrient goal but that you’re incorporating a variety of micronutrients. Nutrient dense foods will help keep you energised during your shift and support overall health.

Maximise Your Schedule and Incorporate Regular Exercise

Maintaining regular exercise can promote improved sleep quality, increased energy levels, stress reduction and improve physical and mental health. Despite the challenges posed by shift work, there are several strategies you can employ to ensure that your fitness routine is effective and not overwhelming.

Maximising your exercise schedule during light work weeks, and pulling back during busier weeks allows you to prioritize rest during busy blocks of work (benefiting from the myriad of advantages stated above) and to progress efficiently during your lighter blocks.

In terms of type of exercise, a balance of cardio and resistance training is ideal. Resistance training helps to increase muscle mass, in turn increasing basal metabolic rate (the rate at which you burn calories at rest), making it easier for shift workers to maintain their weight and prevent weight gain long-term.

Shift work has been known to be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, cardiac disease and stroke, so by incorporating regular cardiovascular training we can reduce the chances of cardiovascular diseases in the future. Regular cardiovascular training also mitigates stress through the release of endorphins, which promote a sense of happiness, improves lipid profiles and aids in general weight management.

Both cardio and resistance training have a multitude of functional benefits, improving overall physical wellness, making it easier for shift workers to perform their job duties efficiently and reducing the risk of injuries due to improved body mechanics and being stronger in general.


In conclusion, it is important to acknowledge that shift workers have the capacity to thrive despite the challenges posed by irregular schedules. With proper planning and implementation of healthy habits, shift workers can maintain their personal and health goals without feeling compelled to compromise due to their career choice.

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