As a nurse, you know that shouldn’t risk your health while you help improve the health of others, but it can be especially hard for a health care provider to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Every day, you make a difference in the lives of individual patients and the overall well-being of the community, but while you’re focused on the health of others, you need to counter the aspects of your job that can be detrimental to your own wellness. The healthier you are, the better you can help your patients (and your loved ones as well!).
So, let’s take a closer look at what the benefits are of maintaining your physical health as a nurse. What do you stand to gain from keeping your health in check, and how can you integrate a healthy routine into your lifestyle?
Strengthening Energy and Immunity
Your job as a nurse can take a lot out of you. Some focus on building your physical wellbeing can make sure you and your patients benefit from negative impacts here. With solid energy levels and optimized immunity, you can perform all tasks to the best of your ability. Not to mention it keeps you personally on top form.
Some ways you can maintain your physical health in this area include
● Tai-Chi and Yoga
Tai-Chi and yoga are mind-body exercises regarded as effective in boosting energy and immunity. The combination of deep and slow breathing, mindfulness, and physical stretching can reduce your fatigue and strengthen your muscles. Not to mention they can support your mental well-being. Particular poses — like the cobra and downward dog — are considered helpful for energy maintenance. These are also exercises you can take just a few minutes out of your busy day to perform.
● Resistance Strength Training
This type of exercise involves the use of equipment such as weights and resistance bands. It may seem as though this would expend more energy than it gains you. But if you’re mindful of your limitations and build up gradually, you can experience short- and long-term boosts. It can also help you to sleep better, which can improve your energy. There is also evidence to suggest this type of regular exercise has a positive impact on the immune system.
● Walk Outside
It can certainly be difficult to galvanize your motivation to exercise, particularly if you already have low energy levels. But it’s important to recognize that even small actions can help to begin with. Taking a couple of moments each day to step outside your hospital or clinic to take a walk in the fresh air and sunshine can do wonders. It keeps you energized, maintains your health, and can motivate you to adopt more beneficial activities.
Optimizing the Senses
Being a nurse requires you to be sharp at all times. Noting less-obvious symptoms or patient body language can influence whether you can deliver the right care to them. Not to mention it can be quite distressing to find you need to strain your eyes and ears in the course of your duties. As such, keeping your senses top-notch is a vital aspect of maintaining your physical health.
Some important focuses here include:
● Nutrition to Protect Your Eyes
Maintaining a balanced diet is a key aspect of keeping generally healthy. But it’s important to understand how your nutritional intake can have a direct impact on your visual health. Some foods contain antioxidants that can protect you against cataracts. Foods high in vitamin C could reduce the risk of glaucoma. It’s worth taking the time to plan your meals to include these foods that play a key role in keeping your senses sharp. Many brightly colored fruits, leafy greens, and fatty fish can make a positive impact.
● Minimize Negative Stimuli
As a nurse, many of the physical health risks to your senses are likely to involve aspects of strain. Harsh strip lighting and spending a lot of time looking at computer screens can put pressure on your eyesight. If you work in the city or busy environments, loud noises can affect your hearing over time. Taking steps to mitigate the effect of stimuli can bolster your physical health. Blue light-blocking glasses can reduce issues from computer screens. Some earplugs can reduce the loudest noises while still keeping you able to hear patients.
● Get Regular Tests
One of your most powerful tools in maintaining the physical health of your senses is regular tests and checkups. As a medical professional, you know how important it is to identify potential issues early on. Getting your sight and hearing tested annually can mean you can benefit from early insights and professional guidance.
Enabling Full Mobility
You need your full mobility as a nurse. In most roles, you will be spending all day on your feet, sometimes rushing around and dealing with emergency scenarios. You may also be lifting and supporting patients at times. As such, maintaining your physical health can mean you benefit from a full range of motion. This also reduces the potential that you’ll injure yourself from pushing your physical limits.
Some approaches to this could include:
● Joint Exercises
It is not unusual for nurses to find their joints are uncomfortable due to the amount of physical pressure the role entails. There are specific exercises you can perform to manage and relieve the symptoms of joint pain, even if you’re experiencing rheumatoid arthritis. Isometric lunges can strengthen the knees, while wall slides can address shoulder pain. Alongside preventing further damage to your joints, these exercises are convenient to perform throughout your workday.
Regularly taking time in the water is an excellent approach to achieving full mobility. Even if you find you experience joint pain or have weight-related challenges, swimming can be a low-pressure way to keep healthy. There is a lower effect of gravity on your body and you can find you’re able to exercise for longer. As such, it is well-suited to gradually building and maintaining your continued mobility.
Being a nurse can put some significant strain on various areas of your wellbeing. Maintaining your physical health can mean you’re able to provide your patients with the best level of care. More importantly, there are opportunities to ensure you don’t suffer from your commitment to serving the community. With some small but impactful adjustments, you can enjoy your nursing career and peak wellness.
Obesity rates are alarmingly high in the United States. Altogether, overweight and obesity rates exceed 70% of the U.S. adult population according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This figure comes with staggering health care costs, as obesity is known to heighten the risk of several chronic diseases including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. Obese individuals also experience a decreased quality of life and a higher mortality rate. These negative health consequences are pronounced among minority populations who often have less access to health care along with a higher rate of obesity-related comorbidities.
African Americans are disproportionately affected by obesity. According to the American Heart Association, 77% of African American women and 63% of African American men are overweight or obese. Within African American faith-based communities, health education programs remain limited despite substantial evidence from the literature indicating its advantages. Significant barriers contribute to a low utilization of health promotion programs in African American faith-based communities. According to a systematic review in Obesity Reviews, some of these barriers include scheduling conflicts with church activities and keeping the interest of participants. Nonetheless, the same study concludes that health programs focused on weight management and weight-related behavior in African American churches can effectively help address the obesity issue.
The NWEP Project
The Nutrition and Wellness Education Program (NWEP) was a pilot study led by a team of two student nurses and one faculty to provide health education in the All Nations Church of God in Christ, which is a predominately African American congregation located in North Richmond, California. The program was conducted during the fall of 2016 and consisted of a series of six workshops of about two hours each facilitated by the team of student nurses. The workshops consisted of teaching using PowerPoints and handouts; group activities, such as modifying recipes and building shopping planners; and recipes/cooking demonstrations. The NWEP aimed to provide the participants with the knowledge, resources, and tools to access and select healthier food options in order to sustain positive nutritional outcomes. This program provided nutrition education regarding the basic food groups, the properties of food items, the benefits of eating certain foods, and hands-on demonstrations of healthier meal preparations. Furthermore, participants learned how to select healthier foods in groceries and restaurants within a limited budget.
The Significance of Nutrition Education
Education plays a crucial role in providing disadvantaged communities with the essential resources needed to make better lifestyle choices. Although obesity originates from a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors, poor dietary habits remain an important contributor to this health issue.
Nutrition education is an integral part of reducing excessive body weight since it can increase knowledge about food and cost-effective approaches to eating healthy. In this regard, NWEP aimed to bridge the knowledge gap and stimulate the adoption of healthier dietary habits among the program’s participants. The NEWP was an eye-opening experience for the women who participated in the program. They lacked basic nutrition literacy, such as the five food groups, or the information contained on nutrition facts labels. They expressed reactions that ranged from surprise and disbelief to apprehension as they grasped the notion of added salt and sugar in food items.
For example, when the workshop facilitators showed the amount of sugar in an eight-ounce soft drink, one participant exclaimed: “Oh, that is a lot of sugar! I would have never imagined this is the amount of sugar I get from one can of Coke.” Similarly, when the facilitators demonstrated that in certain brands of chips, a single bag could contain more than the recommended daily intake of sodium, their reactions were indicative of the fact that they lacked the basic knowledge to make informed dietary choices. Other fundamental nutrition concepts covered in the program were calories and nutrients in foods. This allowed the participants to differentiate between high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods versus low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods and the benefits of incorporating more of the latter into one’s diet.
Moreover, participants had to practice the lessons learned during the workshops. Each participant was invited to explore strategies that fit their individual needs and circumstances. Most of them agreed that cooking at home allowed for a better control over their food’s quality because fast food contains a higher amount of salt, sugar, and fat. Throughout the workshops, the facilitators presented ideas for improving the nutritional qualities of their foods. These included swapping ingredients, lightening the seasoning, and improving the flavors with alternatives such as herbs and spices instead of butter or cheese. Other suggestions included using weekly meal planning, consuming in-season, fresh fruits and vegetables instead of canned foods, and baking in place of deep frying.
Nonetheless, one cannot ignore that increased knowledge alone is insufficient in achieving behavior and dietary change. In the Annals of Global Health, Himmelfarb and colleagues argued that knowledge is not everything as far as behavior modification is concerned. It is necessary to reinforce the skills of these participants and to provide them with support resources (e.g.,regular dietary counseling) to reach the goal of adopting and sustaining healthier dietary habits.
Observations and Feedback
The participants of the NWEP demonstrated a strong interest in the topics covered during the workshops. They could relate to the content of the lessons since it provided relevant information to improve their diets. These women acknowledged the importance of eating a healthy diet and the potential of this pilot program to help them make a positive impact on their health and that of their families since they were generally the primary grocery shoppers and cooks in the household. During the workshop sessions, they actively engaged in the activities, participated in the discussions, asked questions, and shared their challenges in adopting a healthier diet. This enthusiasm was indicative of the need and importance of health promotion program in this faith-based community. The women gave positive feedback overall and reported that they would be interested in staying in the program if it was extended. It was also a good opportunity to address some of their misconceptions about food properties, such as the characteristics of whole-grain foods. Beyond the learning experience of the NWEP, the participants developed a fellowship and camaraderie. They often stayed on the premises of the church and engaged in long, lively conversations at the end of the sessions. This act of bonding could be used as a support system to sustain the desired lifestyles change.
Lessons Learned and Recommendations for Future Projects
The NWEP underscores the challenges and opportunities for implementing health education programs in a faith-based environment. This study highlights the importance of nutrition education because a limited understanding of nutrition and diet also accounts for poor food choices and dietary habits. Improving nutritional literacy is a critical component of health education because it can initiate a behavior modification. The interest the participants displayed during the workshops is a clear indication of the need for health literacy and health promotion programs. Such programs should be implemented over a longer period and should be expanded to provide substantial support and sustain healthy lifestyles such as physical activity, dietary counseling, or health monitoring. Training lay-health educators among church members offers an efficient and inexpensive means to reach a wider audience within the community for a longer duration of time.
Despite its success, there were several challenges encountered while running this pilot program. Ongoing communication between facilitators and faith-based organizations will help ensure efficient workshop sessions. Also, providing the participants with monetary incentives, such as paying for their transportation or offering grocery gift certificates, may increase participants’ attendance. Using innovative technology such as text message reminders could also boost the attendance rate. Substantial financial support is equally critical for the success of such programs because the host community may lack basic equipment including a kitchen, a projector, and internet access, to facilitate the program.
The NWEP helped identify strategies to improve health outcomes in underserved communities. Health education in African American faith-based communities holds the potential to improve access to preventive care services. Despite its promise to reach a large number of individuals in underserved populations, health education programs in faith-based communities are limited. The NWEP attempts to address this gap by focusing on nutrition, which is a crucial component of health. Nutrition is a major part of health care and dietary modification is an essential, primary intervention in improving the overall health of disadvantaged populations.
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