Wellness - individual

Physical spoke – 13/03/2018

By Una Harrington

Una Harrington
Dr. Una Harrington – Emergency Physician, Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Brisbane @drunaem – WRaP EM lead; Founder of WRaP EM


Wellness Week Take Home Points

Move your body in any way at all – be opportunistic and be organised

Being well fed literally will fuel your performance……Just ask Dr. Jane Lemaire


Move your body – in any way at all

As a shift worker, it is really challenging to commit to a team sport, a regular yoga class or sometimes simply exercising when it’s daylight outside or when a gym is open.

When I started this journey towards wellbeing, I had to move 3 Saturday shifts as a Registrar so I could do a 6-week Intro to Yoga class. The stable ‘grounding’ in Yoga practice that was formed over that 6 weeks (excuse the pun!) is probably the main reason I still practise Yoga today, 8 years later.

But that time off required effort and negotiation. Sometimes, you simply won’t have that control over your roster. So here are a few ideas to help you ‘Move your Body – in any way at all’ regardless of what your roster is.

Consider some of the following

  1. Do a ‘Schedule Hack’

In recent podcasts and posts by Emergency Medicine Cases and also Dr Dike Drummond, both have spoken about a Schedule Hack for wellness prioritisation. If your work schedule is on your phone, then considering formally scheduling your run, your yoga class or that Hip Hop dance class you’ve wanted to do for years.

Have a look this short online video by Dike Drummond for further information 

  1. Use shift work to your exercising advantage

Have you ever done a job where you worked Monday to Friday….When you went to a Spin class on Saturday morning and couldn’t get a bike because it was so busy? Or where you went to the pool on Sunday morning for a swim there was no real room in the Slow Lane for your sometimes uncoordinated front crawl (yes, that’s me in the slow lane holding everyone else up!)

How many of your non-shift working friends have the opportunity to go to an exercise class, yoga in my case, regularly at 10 am on a weekday when there is plenty room for your mat and time for your teacher to give you feedback? How many of those ‘normal’ people meet their personal trainer at 9am on a Wednesday when the gym or the park is empty and peaceful?

How can you keep fit, optimise your teams’ culture and make the shift-work work for you and your ED team?

At the Sunshine Coast University Hospital, they have an Ocean Swim Group and a Mountain Bike Group.

4 shift workers from both medical and nursing areas at my ED, just did a 100k walk for Oxfam – yes, they had to be organised but they trained every week for months despite the full-time shift workers they all are.

What could you do where you work to ‘make the shift work, work for you’?

  1. Multi-purpose exercise

If you want to feel more ‘efficient’, you can make that exercise time a bit more multi focused – do yoga and take care of your mind and your body, ring a friend you haven’t spoken to in months while you’re out walking or maybe even go to that Hip Hop dance class with that friend or even your husband!

  1. Any movement is good movement

As an ED doctor, I do more than an average of 7,000 – 10,000 steps every day. I work in a smaller ED but still seem to always get that number. This is called incidental exercise.

We are at a disadvantage as shift workers when it comes to many other things but when we are busy, we probably have one of the best jobs for keeping up our step counts! Turn on the step counter on your phone if you carry it at work or your smart watch – see how many steps you do on shift.

Also remember there are many other ‘fun’ and ‘productive’ ways to increase your incidental exercise – clothes shopping, carrying your 15-kg toddler out of the supermarket mid tantrum or even vacuuming!

Have a look at this article by Michelle Bridges for further information


You are what you eat

Eating well is hard when you are a shift worker.

But though a challenge, it is an essential component for your health and performance both at work and in the rest of your life.

If you’re looking for the evidence on this, look no further than Dr. Jane Lemaire’s research in the area (Lemaire, Wallace, Dinsmore, & Roberts, 2011).

Consider some of the following strategies to help you Eat Well.

  1. ‘Fast is Slow and Slow is Fast’

Consider spending an hour or two on your day off before a run of shifts, prepping food for your work week – a slow cooked big pot of chilli or a roast chicken are my go to favourites. You might think chilli 3 shifts in a row will be totally unappetising, but when you get to 9 pm on that third evening shift and you have a home-made, protein rich delicious meal you won’t regret that hour of ‘work’ on your day off.

There is an added bonus that if you have the responsibility of feeding those hungry loved ones at home, they will be satisfied too from that same bulk cook.

This is one of my favourite chilli recipes from Jamie Oliver

Consider adding 2 tablespoons of either coffee granules or unsweetened cocoa instead of the balsamic vinegar.

 It’s a bit controversial but a taste revelation taken from Mexican based mole ethos!

  1. Channel you inner @LizCrowe2

So perhaps you’re thinking – I do cook an excellent chilli but never get enough time to heat it up and eat it on busy shift. I’d like to share with you about what Social Worker and FOAMed-er extraordinaire Liz Crowe (@LizCrowe2) has previously called her ‘Sandwich Diet’.

In a talk last year, Liz told of how she also found that she was rarely getting to eat her meal at work. Then, she started taking a fresh sandwich from home for lunch – so even if she was called away mid first bite, she could still walk and eat and be full on arrival to a key family meeting or debriefing.

Yes, we would all like our 30 minutes to sit and chew our food, but sometimes in busy Critical Care jobs, you just need a strategy to guarantee you will put food in your empty stomach on a more regular basis.

  1. Snack efficiently but effectively

This takes a bit or pre-planning but is well worth it.

When you go to the supermarket, top up on protein rich snack that are both yummy and filling – almonds, yogurt etc. You’ll need the protein and good fats to stay full for longer. Fruit has some great merits but I just find it doesn’t keep me full for long enough on shift, where I eat something every 2-3 hours.

@ashEMdoc is the queen of this snacking strategy!

Here’s are my top 2 sneakily delicious but healthy snacks

Tamari almonds – get them in the health food isle or you can make your own. An excellent pre-resus pick me up.

Bliss balls – there’s lots of Bliss Balls recipes online but here is Donna Hay’s https://www.donnahay.com.au/recipes/desserts-and-baking/bliss-balls

For more great additional resources – click – Physical spoke e-learning


  1. Lemaire, J. B., Wallace, J. E., Dinsmore, K., & Roberts, D. (2011). Food for thought: An exploratory study of how physicians experience poor workplace nutrition. Nutrition Journal10(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-10-18

About Una Harrington



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