Accountable Healthcare - Exercise Will Make You a Healthier Healthcare Hero
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November 16, 2020

Exercise Will Make You a Healthier Healthcare Hero

If you’re a nurse or a nursing student and your daily routine doesn’t include healthy foods and regular exercise, the pandemic should serve as a wake-up call. As a healthcare provider, you know that obesity and overweight endanger your health in myriad ways, so what are you doing about it? COVID-19 commonly targets the heart and lungs, and the best interests of both of these organs are often set aside in a profession filled with 12-hour shifts, grab-and-go eating, emotional stress, and erratic sleep cycles—a combination that may leave you feeling too drained and overextended to find time to eat properly and work out. Well, don’t wait for the new year: this is the time to make time!

Nurses Have to Fight the Odds

Overweight, obesity, and lack of exercise are occupational hazards for nurses and other HCPs. How much you work, the activity level of your job and your working hours can make it hard to stay or get fit. One study found that nurses who worked over 40 hours a week were 2–3 times more likely to be overweight or obese than part-time nurses, and those on night shifts “were significantly less likely to perform regular muscle-strengthening physical activity” or engage in aerobic exercise. After a 2012 study indicated that 55% of nurses might be obese, Dr. David Katz, director at the Yale University Prevention Center, remarked, “There’s an awful lot conspiring against weight control in nurses. The solutions are… giving the nurses the knowledge and skills they need to manage their weight, and environmental reforms, like having opportunities for physical activity breaks in hospitals, and having nutritious food options readily available 24 hours a day.”

However, if you are employed by a hospital, chances are that your administrators have some sort of employee wellness program in place: nearly 90% of US hospitals have health and wellness initiatives, and they encourage employees to take part and engage in regular exercise. If your hospital is not even providing healthy food options in vending machines (such as unsalted nuts and dried fruits), you should urge them to do so, and bring in your own high-protein/high fiber/low-sugar “convenience foods.”

This is a Terrible Time to be Overweight or Obese

According to a CDC study of Covid cases among healthcare workers, nurses made up 36.3%, or one third of the healthcare providers hospitalized for COVID-19 between March and May 2020. Like studies of the general population, the study sounded a warning note about the danger of comorbidities, particularly obesity. A full 90% of the hospitalized healthcare providers reported at least one underlying condition, and two-thirds of that group, 72.5%, were obese.

This is consistent with numerous studies. A recent Science magazine article reported that “many of the sickest COVID-19 patients have been people with obesity,” and new studies show that “even people who are merely overweight are at higher risk.” An August analysis of nearly 400,000 COVID-19 cases found that obese patients “were 113% more likely than people of healthy weight to land in the hospital, 74% more likely to be admitted to an ICU, and 48% more likely to die.” All serious food for thought if your waistline has expanded beyond 35 inches (or 40 inches for men) and your BMI is nearing or over 30.

Exercise is a Daily Necessity for Everyone (This Means You!)

Whether you are lissome or zaftig, exercise is a health essential. No matter how content you might be with your current weight, just as you need protein, fruit, grains, and veggies, you also need at least 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity each day. Citing benefits ranging from overall lower mortality risk to improved cognition and sleep patterns, reduction of anxiety and depression, and disease prevention, the CDC says that “adults of all sizes and shapes gain health and fitness benefits by being habitually physically active.”

If you cannot find a solid half-hour for a workout, there’s no need to give up; spending 10 minutes three times a day on brisk walks, stair-climbing, stretching, or doing basic calisthenic exercises will provide the same boost to your health, mood, and energy as a continuous 30-minute workout. And if you are simply not up to three 10-minute sessions, just one daily 15-minute workout can add three years to your life.

You Might Want to Stand Up While Reading This

How much of your time do you spend in a chair? The Mayo Clinic analyzed 13 studies of the effects of sitting time on health and found that regardless of weight, “those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking.” The studies also indicated that it takes “60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day” to counteract the effects of too much sitting.

Heeding James Brown’s call to “shake your money-maker” also effects improvement in existing conditions. The US Department of Health and Human Services states that exercise has been shown to “decrease pain for those with osteoarthritis, reduce disease progression for hypertension and type 2 diabetes, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve cognition for those with dementia, multiple sclerosis, ADHD, and Parkinson’s disease.”

It’s Easier Than You Think

Finding time for moderate exercise is less challenging than you may think. You don’t even need to pull yourself together for a daily half-hour workout. An American Heart Association study found that spreading several five- or 10-minute exercise sessions throughout the day can be just as beneficial to your long-term health as a continuous 30-45 minute workout. Instead of sitting for an extended period, spend 5-10 minutes walking, running an errand, or doing stretches—don’t be self-conscious, you’re setting a good example! Strength training is also recommended in standard guidelines—building muscle mass helps your body burn more calories—so why not invest in a pair of light 2-5lb dumbbells, and keep them easily accessible at home? Doing arm curls or reps or an overhead military press when you have a few free minutes can do wonders.

And when it comes to your diet, it’s never too late to overhaul your eating habits. There are plenty of healthy, delicious snacks you can eat on the go, and even basic government sites like the USDA’s Choose My Plate serve as a good reminder of the essential building blocks of a healthy daily diet.

Article By: Koran Thomas