February celebrates heart health, but it’s not always easy to make all the best choices for your heart. Try any of these five heart health hacks to get started on a good path to better cardiac health.
1. Treat Yourself
Proper diet is essential to a heart-healthy lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean your food can’t feel decadent. Reducing fats, especially saturated and trans fats, is a given, but so is making sure you’re getting enough fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. But a heart-healthy diet doesn’t have to be boring or bland. Experiment with spices and flavorings to add some variety. And while a banana split or a wedge of triple-chocolate cake isn’t going to do your heart any good, a few chocolate covered strawberries can satisfy your sweet tooth without overloading your heart.
2. Floss Your Teeth
Heart health depends on lots of protective behaviors, not just intense exercise. Daily flossing has long been known to be a protective action you can take to keep your mouth healthy, but does it also protect your heart? In general, periodontal disease may raise the risk of heart disease and may interfere with proper heart valve functions. Because gum disease can trigger inflammation, and inflammation is tied to heart disease, brushing and flossing every day can help you keep problems at bay and may give your heart extra protection. You get a lot of benefits from just a few minutes of effort.
3. Zone Out
Meditation is known to help bring down stress and reduce inflammation-triggering cortisol. But lots of people think of meditation as something that requires time they don’t have. What if you think of meditation as zoning out, but with a focused mental health purpose? When you walk, focus just on the feel of your feet hitting the ground. Listen closely to the noises outside or to the notes in a favorite piece of music. Watch a movie or read a book that engrosses you. Do something you so enjoy that time slips away. Getting into that kind of quiet state helps your heart reap some important benefits of restorative calm.
4. Stretch Your Legs
Something as easy as stretching, and stretching your legs in particular, can help with heart health. Some studies have shown that a regular, easy routine of stretching your legs can help keep arteries more flexible which improves blood flow. When the vascular system is in better shape, your cardiac health is going to benefit. Incorporate a routine of stretching your legs every day.
5. Laugh a Lot
From relieving your stress to increasing blood flow to upping your oxygen levels, laughing is serious business when it comes to your heart health. And while the weight of the pandemic might make laughing less easy to come by, it is worthwhile to seek it out. In this digital era, finding a funny video of silly animals or watching 10 minutes of a favorite comedian is easy enough. You can also check in with your funniest friend or even join a group that laughs on purpose—there are laughter clubs that do just that. Don’t wait for the laughter to just happen—make it happen for your heart health.
Long known as a month filled with valentines and heart-themed decorations, it’s no wonder that February was chosen as the month to highlight heart health.
The February 2021 celebration marks the 57th annual American Heart Month, and spotlights women’s heart health with a “Heart to Heart: Why Losing One Woman Is Too Many” campaign. In a time when one in three women are diagnosed with heart disease annually, this important month is a time when nurses can check their own heart health and strive to be a resource and help provide patients with accurate and timely information about heart disease.
As always, people can take lots of steps to keep their hearts healthy and can, in fact, prevent or mitigate a great number of serious heart disease cases. A healthy lifestyle can make a huge difference in heart health and even moderate steps can have significant impact. You don’t have to be a marathon runner to have a strong heart, and it’s important to talk about small lifestyle changes with patients so they feel like they can make a difference in their own health.
getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week, and
getting regular checkups.
And other habits can be just as important for keeping your heart in top shape. Getting enough sleep, keeping socially active with friends and loved ones, and trying to reduce the impact of stress with stress reduction practices (whether that’s a hobby or talking to a professional), all play a part in keeping your heart strong. And everyone should know the symptoms of heart attack or stroke.
Beyond lifestyle changes, do some sleuthing and find out as much as you can about your family’s heart health history. As genetic components can predispose certain families to heart disease, knowing if anyone in your family has had or currently has high blood pressure, a history of heart attacks or strokes, heart valve problems, or heart failure, can help you determine if you’re at a higher risk. It’s especially important to know the ages of these diagnoses as a family history of early heart disease can help guide your own testing and monitoring decisions.
Cardiovascular nurses treat patients with heart disease and often act as a great resource for patients. As they walk patients through their diagnoses and treatment, they are also able to help connect patients and families with other resources including nutritionists, physical therapists, support groups, and other specialists.
Almost any nurse knows 2020 can’t be compared to any other point of time they have lived through. And 2021’s progress is in sight, but it’s slow going getting there. Vaccines are on the horizon and some nurses have even completed both doses, but hospitals are still seeing more patients than they can sometimes handle and the new strains of COVID-19 bring the threat additional surges. Nurses are seeking short bursts of stress relief to combat the burnout they are feeling.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left a path of devastation few are equipped to deal with physically, emotionally, or spiritually. As front-line workers, nurses bear the brunt of overwhelming stress, grief, and exhaustion. Stress relief is a priority, but hard to come by for most nurses.
Minority Nurse recently spoke with Crystal Miller RN, past president of the Infusion Nurses Society (INS) about the ways nurses are just trying to get through these times when days blur together and overtaxed is the normal state.
The emotional toll on nurses can’t be overlooked, she says. “Anyone in health care has been impacted,” says Miller. “Even if it’s not every shift, it has challenged us emotionally.” Nurses, who are problem solvers by nature, aren’t always able to find a solution, let alone the best solution, out of many choices. “The patients are so so ill and you can effect only so much change,” she notes.” And it’s not necessarily for a positive outcome.”
Maintaining a patient connection is now a hard-to-grasp process, but Miller says her team makes a significant impression in any way they can. “We’ve been put to the test in so many ways,” she says. “Making sure we have eye contact –that’s pretty much the most impactful contact we can have right now.”
What else helps? Miller offers a few suggestions based on her conversations with other nurses.
Talk to a Professional
“It’s about more than us and the care we provide and the equipment we use,” says Miller. “It’s about us being emotionally resilient and maintaining our mental health.” Miller, who has spoken or interviewed many nurses who are fighting back tears, says the hurt and the pain nurses are feeling is so dominant. With her own team, she tries to promote the use of employee assistance programs that offer counseling services and encourages that resource. “Sometimes it’s better to talk to someone who doesn’t work in health care and gives you a new perspective,” she says.
Find a Distraction
From watching quick and easy-to-digest TikTok videos to feeding the birds to deep breathing—finding something fast to calm you or make you laugh is valuable. And don’t worry how silly it might seem to others—you need relief and an immediate escape. If a few bursts of cat videos or watching reality TV or breaking out in song and dance help you, then just do it.
“I can’t stress journaling enough,” says Miller. Again, you’re not going for profound entries. You can write that today was a horrible day and just get that out. Or you can write that out of the horrible day your coffee was perfect and you’re grateful for that one thing.
Find Your Own Soothing Habit
“One person I know grounds herself before her next patient interaction,” says Miller. She touches the door or doorframe before entering the room as a way to say “I am going to see someone else now.” The purposeful action provides a divide between the experience she just had and the one she is beginning.
Acknowledge Your Limits
“Right now, most of us are of the mindset of work, go home, go to bed,” says Miller. “We are so tired.” Still, the grinding workload doesn’t mean nurses have lost their legendary spirit that keeps them going even when things are bleak. “At the end of the day, we just try to enjoy moments of levity when they present themselves and however they present themselves,” says Miller. “And chocolate goes a long way in my book.”
There’s no questioning the difficulty of a career as a nurse. You may have to work long hours, deal with a variety of patients each day, and spend most of the time on your feet. You also have to deal with the risk of things like patient violence or the general sadness that comes from losing a patient you’ve been working with. But, nursing can be an incredibly rewarding career when you’re in the right work environment. A toxic work environment, however, is a different story. It can make getting your job done feel nearly impossible. If you come home each day feeling absolutely drained, and perhaps even frustrated or helpless, you might be dealing with a harmful environment at work.
So, how can you know what a toxic work environment looks like? What are your rights, as a nurse, to a healthy environment, and what can you do to make sure those rights are upheld?
What Does a Toxic Work Environment Look Like?
As a nurse, you probably already understand the importance of being able to adapt to different work cultures. If you’re not sure how to learn more about a specific culture or atmosphere within a workplace, there are a few things you can do to get a feel for it quickly, including:
Watching and learning from others
The more you observe and the more questions you ask, the easier it can become to see if you’re dealing with an unhealthy work environment. Bear in mind that if you don’t like your job or you’re not satisfied with your work, that doesn’t automatically mean you’re in a toxic environment. You may need to try a different career path. But, toxicity in the workplace is very different. You can recognize it through some of the following signs:
There is an overall lack of communication
There are cliques, exclusions, or groups
The workers aren’t motivated to do their jobs
Growth is discouraged
Everyone is burnt out
Finally, there’s nothing wrong with going with your gut. If you get a “bad” feeling about your workplace, even if you can’t quite put your finger on it, don’t ignore those feelings.
How Can It Affect You?
A toxic work environment is more than just an inconvenience. It’s more than just something to “trudge through”. In fact, an unhealthy work environment can contribute to a variety of physical and mental health issues. Some of the most common problems include:
High blood pressure
The toll on your mental health is nothing to take lightly, either. You might find yourself constantly feeling stressed and overwhelmed at work. It doesn’t take much for that to carry into your home life if you can’t let the feelings of the day go when you walk in the door. That constant feeling of stress can lead to mental health conditions like anxiety, or even depression. As that continues, you may end up needing to get extra help just to deal with those conditions.
Working every day in a toxic environment can wear you down. So much so, that it can even weaken your immune system, making it easier to get sick. As a nurse, you know the importance of taking care of your mind and body. If you don’t make self-care a priority, it could impact your personal life in a negative way. Your work environment shouldn’t be the thing that compromises your health.
How to Find a Healthier Environment in Your Field
If you find yourself in a toxic work environment, the best thing you can do is leave. An environment that large isn’t likely to change, even if you address the issues. You need to prioritize your needs when it comes to your career and your overall well-being. But, leaving a job isn’t always easy if you need the income.
Waiting to leave until you have another job lined up is always a safer option. Or, you might consider going a more nontraditional route with a remote job. Remote jobs allow you to work from home (or anywhere!), eliminating everything from toxic employees to negative patient interactions. Working remotely can help to reduce your stress levels and offer more flexibility.
Obviously, not all nursing jobs are able to be done remotely, but there are some that will allow you to work from home while still caring for others, including:
Clinical appeals nurse
Telephone triage nurse
Some larger hospitals and even national health care groups are always looking for nurses who can work remotely and fulfill these needs. These particular jobs might be different from what you’re used to, but that could be exactly what you need to break free from a toxic environment. In doing so, you can learn to enjoy your work again, and find fulfillment in helping patients while taking care of yourself, too.
Although more than 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma, awareness of this eye disease, how it starts, and how it progresses isn’t widespread.
The Glaucoma Research Foundation says January’s Glaucoma Awareness Month, can help people become more knowledgeable about this disease. Glaucoma can eventually lead to blindness, but obvious symptoms of it are almost nonexistent. For that reason, glaucoma is known as a silent or sneaky disease.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in people over 60. The disease causes fluid to build up in the eye which can damage the optic nerve and cause irreversible damage. The disease has some hereditary traits, and it can affect one eye but not the other.
The good news is if glaucoma is caught early, significant damage can be prevented, saving the patient’s eyesight. Regular eye screenings are vital to finding the pressure buildup in the eye, so if any patients have a history of glaucoma in their family, they should be aware of how important these screenings are. According to The Glaucoma Foundation, age alone is also a risk factor, and glaucoma is more commonly found in people over age 40 rather than those in younger groups.
There are other risk factors to be aware of. Preexisting conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, an eye injury, long-term steroid use, and nearsightedness can predispose someone to glaucoma. In addition, those of African, Hispanic, Latino, and Asian descent have an increased risk of developing one or both of the two types of glaucoma—angle-closure glaucoma or normal tension glaucoma.
If you or any of your patients notice any vision changes, it’s wise to consider the possibility of glaucoma. By the time symptoms develop, some damage has occurred, so it’s essential to get any symptoms checked early. Things to look for include any blurred vision, cloudy or dark spots in the field of vision (including peripheral), eye pain, or even headaches.
According to the American Glaucoma Society, treatments for this eye disease include anything from medications and eye drops to reduce the swelling in the eye caused by fluid buildup. Advanced cases may require surgery to help drain the excess fluid in a permanent manner. This can include a laser surgery to improve the drainage capability of the eye.
With treatment, eye damage can be slowed, but some low vision can still happen, even if the final result isn’t blindness. People need to learn how to live with the disease and manage the resulting symptoms as much as possible. Working as a team with a good ophthalmologist can help, but the patient’s entire medical team can also act as a resource and support for managing glaucoma for the long-term.
As a nurse, you can help patients become aware of this disease and the risks associated with it. And in your personal life, you can help your family and friends, as well as yourself, keep up with screenings to catch any early signs of the condition.
What comes to mind when you hear the words, “Physical Activity”? For some, it might conjure up a negative connotation while for others, they may already be a go getter for an active lifestyle. Believe it or not, physical activity and exercise are two different terms although used interchangeably. Physical activity is any movement of the body done through skeletal muscle contraction that causes the energy expenditure to go beyond its baseline. Simply stated, physical activity is movement, in any form.
Sadly, less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity, and 28-34% of adults aged 65-74 are physically active in the United States. It is important to gather some perspective on the impact of a sedentary lifestyle and how it is more common than physical activity. According to the Center for Disease Control, physical inactivity is even more common among ethnic and racial groups in most states. The CDC’s January report from 2020 showed overall, Hispanics had the highest prevalence of physical inactivity (31.7%), followed by non-Hispanic blacks (30.3%) and non-Hispanic whites (23.4%).
We all have heard of vital signs. Part of that assessment should also involve the type of physical activity one engages in. As nurses, we are the largest body of the health care workforce, and studies show that we are not following healthy practices when it comes to our self-care and well-being. The American Nurse Association even launched a Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation initiative to address the core elements that address nurse’s self-care and well-being, Activity, being one of them which goes to show that this is a pressing concern.
Some of the challenges posed as to why people do not take part in physical activity is location. The neighborhood in which people live may not have access to outdoor parks, paved streets, or recreation centers. Depending on your home environment, you may not have the space to exercise in.
The good news is just doing any activity, especially one in which you enjoy doing is acceptable in burning calories. Anything is better than being sedentary. The risks of sedentary behavior are universal and it is important for nurses to adopt a more active lifestyle. Physical inactivity is closely related to premature death, preventable disease, and health care costs.
Exercise is a subset of physical activity and is defined as an activity that is organized, planned, and reoccurring which is done with the intent of improving or maintaining one or more components of one’s health. Having said this, physical activity can involve any movement and does not have to involve a schedule or with an “all or nothing” attitude. For those who are trying to lose weight, exercise is not as important as much as your food intake. There needs to be a calorie deficit in order to lose weight. Nutrition and physical activity work in tandem but about 80% is based on nutrition and 20% should be focused on physical activity.
Physical activity come with benefits such as: heart health and prevention of diabetes, improved strength and mobility, release of dopamine, endorphins and serotonin (the “feel good” hormones), increased lifespan, and increased insulin sensitivity. Carrying on extra weight can contribute to joint pain. For every additional pound that you are overweight, an extra 5 pounds of pressure is exerted on your joints.
It cannot be argued that the majority of nurses are female and women tend to hold onto more fat than men; that is how nature intended us to be designed. As we age, we are also at risk for bone loss. For that reason, we do not want to lose weight too quickly because we also want to protect our bones, which is why muscle resistant training is so important. Half a pound per week of weight loss is the ideal; it is all very specific to how much weight the person needs to lose. Even a 5-10% weight loss can reap positive effects on overall health.
Nurses, especially those of other ethnicities can become role models and advocates for system changes at the workplace as well as at home. Even if nurse leaders are not fully on board, it is important to heighten awareness on the benefits of physical activity which would improve morale as well as productivity. Identifying barriers is the first step and serving as a role model would also provide an impetus for behavior change.
Just like with patients, we need to assess our readiness and meet ourselves where we are at. We need to give ourselves permission to work on our fitness regimen so it can be more sustainable. The best exercise to lose weight is the exercise you will do. If you have to ask yourself, “Should I work out today?” hopefully, the answer is yes. If you choose “No”; well, yes you should.