By Megan Murdock Krischke, contributor
January 13, 2013 - Nurses often have the responsibility of teaching patients how to care for themselves. Their teaching is not only for short-term needs such as giving post-operative instructions or answering questions about medications, but may cover long-term lifestyle changes required to manage and prevent chronic diseases.
Beth Battaglino, RN, president and chief executive officer of HealthyWomen.org, an organization aimed and providing health information to women and their families, is encouraging nurses to resolve in 2014 that they will practice the healthy living guidelines they teach patients.
“As nurses, we need to be in good health,” she stated. “I’m not saying you have to be a super athlete, but we need to be in good shape both mentally and physically to take on the care of our patients. We are working long hours, with skeleton staffing, and the patient workload is only going to increase.”
As a practicing nurse in maternal–fetal medicine and a mother of a one-year old, Battaglino understands the challenges nurses face in making healthy choices.
“In addition to their nursing work, most nurses are also caring for a family, so after a 12-hour shift, there are still household responsibilities to take care of. There is a lot of juggling,” said Battaglino. “Eating well is a significant challenge because nurses often feel they don’t have time to take their breaks and end up grabbing candy and doughnuts out of the break room.”
But changes can be made.
“You don’t have to make a marathon your goal,” she remarked. “Just take it a step at a time.”
Battaglino recommends nurses looking to improve their health start with one of the following steps:
• Bring your own meals and snacks to work.
“Personally I like to keep nuts in my car to eat on my way home so I don’t walk in the door ravenous at the end of the day,” Battaglino said.
• Stay well hydrated, especially during long shifts.
• Get an extra cardiovascular boost by taking the stairs. Consider wearing a pedometer to track your steps each day.
• Get enough sleep.
“Don’t take too many shifts in a row. Think through what schedule will really work for you and your family,” she recommended.
• Fit in workouts on your days off work.
“Working out relieves stress, keeps you strong, works to prevent heart disease and osteoporosis, improves sleep, increases your energy and can increase confidence,” Battaglino noted.
• Eat more seafood.
“I recommend eating two to three servings of seafood a week. Many of us have relied on supplements for our nutrients, but it is so much better to gain our nutrients from our food,” she stated. “A diet high in seafood is good for your brain, as well as your heart.”
• Find someone to keep you accountable.
“I work out with a group of moms on the weekends. Creating plans with a friend, or group of friends, makes you show up because there are only so many excuses you can use. At the end of a stressful week it is great to have a little therapy session, and by the time we are done with our run our problems are solved,” she laughed. “Find some girlfriends to do a walking group, before you know it you will be thinking about doing a 5K.”
“As you take these steps, you will feel better about yourself, you will have more energy at work, and you will be better able to manage your stress--as a nurse you will have hit the trifecta,” Battaglino encouraged. “Then as you are telling a patient, ‘You need to do X, Y and Z,’ they will see a fit nurse. People can sense that you are healthy--you don’t have to be a size 6 to prove it.”
While you are in the process of improving your health, Battaglino suggests sharing that information with patients. If you are instructing a patient to improve their diet, let them know that you are working to improve your diet and that you know change is hard. Share the steps you are taking, the challenges you’ve encountered and how you have overcome them.
“At HeathlyWomen.org, our whole message is ‘Taking Care of You.’ Women, and especially nurses, are taking care of so many people--not just our immediate family, but other relatives as well,” she said. “When we take care of ourselves first, we are better able to care for others. The website offers useful, healthy lifestyle information that can benefit anyone looking to improve their health and especially those looking to live a full life in the midst of chronic illness.”
Nurses and other clinicians who want to commit to living the same healthy lifestyle they recommend to patients might consider making The Patient Promise. Those who make the promise are sent a pin to wear on their lapel and can use it as a conversation starter with patients about their own commitments to healthy living.
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