Nurses might be all heart, but they don’t always have the time or energy to take care of their own hearts the way they should.
With February being American Heart Month, now’s the time to take just a few small steps to make your heart healthier. Lynne Braun, PhD, CNP, FAHA, FPCNA, FAAN, of the Rush University Medical Center’s Heart and Vascular Institute in Chicago, is a board member of the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA)and understands the challenges nurses face in keeping their own hearts healthy.
“The biggest challenge for nurses is similar to that of everyone else,” Braun says. “It’s making the commitment and finding the time. As nurses, it’s important to be role models for patients and colleagues. We need to walk the talk.”
Plan for Health
“It’s very common for nurses to work 12-hour shifts,” says Braun, “and they never leave on time.” After three or four days of long shifts, many nurses are just too worn out to exercise. Planning for a 15-minute walk after dinner and packing a healthy lunch can help your healthy behaviors become habit so those marathon shifts won’t totally derail your intentions.
Find a Way to Relax
We all need less stress and more fun, and keeping your stress down can really ease your heart. Nursing is a stressful career and if you add in trying to keep up with a heart-healthy diet, exercise, and all the other things you do to keep your day running, stress adds up. Finding ways to relax is crucial to your heart health. “It’s about figuring out what’s best for you,” says Braun. “Stress relief is very individual.” Find activities that make you feel good. Yoga is a great relaxation exercise, but if a run makes you feel best, do that. Love goofy YouTube videos? Watch two or three every day. “Have hobbies that are pleasurable to you and that you like to do,” says Braun.
Fit in Exercise
Interval training. Five-mile power walks. Hot yoga. Spin classes. Kickboxing. Take your pick of any of these activities to get your heart rate up and make it strong, but don’t give up if you don’t have 30, 40 or 60 minutes to get your heart pumping. On the days when you’re pressed for time, just do what you can, says Braun. “Wear a pedometer or a FitBit prominently,” she says. A quick glance at your total steps lets you know if you need to add a few more to reach your goal.
Laugh and Socialize
People who have supportive networks of family and friends have healthier hearts. So gather with your loved ones as much as you possibly can. Chat with your girlfriends over coffee or a walk (bonus points for exercising at the same time!). Get involved with a community or faith group to meet people with similar interests.
Develop a Good Sleep Routine
Catching sleep whenever you can? “Establish good sleep patterns,” says Braun. “It’s important even on work days to develop a routine to relax in some way before you go to bed.” Just getting a good night’s sleep can help your body regenerate from a hard day, process all the information in your brain, and recharge you for the coming day. When your body is deprived of that rest, everything has to work harder. Turn the phone and computer off, read something relaxing, or listen to music that soothes you.
The more you can do for your own heart health, the more energy you’ll have to focus on others at work. You can’t give what you don’t have, so take the time to treat yourself the best you can and keep that heart strong.