Q I work night shifts and fitting in runs is really difficult. What’s my best strategy?
A Shift work has many advantages over working conventional hours: you’ll never get stuck in rush hour traffic; you can avoid endless queues in the supermarket at lunchtime; and when it comes to the gym you don’t have to stick to the 15-minutes-maximum-during-peak-times rule. The advantages of shift work pretty much end there.
You may find your unconventional hours disrupt your family and social life and have a detrimental impact on both your mental and physical health. A lot of research indicates that shift work has a major effect on the health and safety of workers. Circadian rhythms (the body’s natural 24-hour cycle), which regulate your daily body functions, including sleeping, waking, blood pressure and body temperature, are governed by environmental factors such as the light/dark cycle. If you are working night shifts, you may experience disorientation leading to chronic fatigue and other health problems.
That said, there is no reason why you shouldn’t maintain a regular exercise pattern, and scheduling regular exercise into your day (or night) may be even more important for shift workers. Regular exercise will help to improve the quality of your sleep, increase your energy levels and reduce stress.
The ideal time to exercise is likely to be just before you start work. This should help you stay alert on the job. Exercising during breaks can also help you stay focused at work, particularly if your job is sedentary. On your days off, avoid strenuous exercise if possible as your body adapts to a “normal” day schedule. Use your days off as rest days instead. If your days off are the only opportunity you have to take part in races however, try to rest as much as possible before and after the race to minimise the stress on your body.
— Elinor Davies, exercise and nutrition expert