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  • Writer's pictureRachel Ogilby

Healthy Habits For Healthy Nurses

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

We all want to be healthier, happier, and more energetic. I am always striving to be a healthier version of myself! There is a plethora of great information about healthy habits available online, in self-help books, or from health care personnel.

However, a great deal of this advice can be difficult to follow as a nurse. For example, taking short breaks from your work and staying hydrated is great advice for the general public - but nurses often barely get one bathroom break, let alone four or five. I decided to take a look at some healthy habits that are actually achievable when you’re working long shifts. Here is what I found.

First, healthy people make health a priority. Sound obvious? It is! Being a nurse can be stressful, and we are notorious for putting others before ourselves. If you care about your health, take charge of it!

Nurses can establish healthy habits by meal prepping. Find an exercise you enjoy and do it regularly. Quit addictive behaviors (smoking, gambling, etc.). Forgive others (huh? Read this). Sleep at least 7 hours a night (Night shifter? Read on for more details). Find a stress outlet – this might be hanging out with friends or family, scrapbooking, or rock climbing… whatever speaks to you. Spend time doing what you love. Plan and use to-do lists. Stay as hydrated as you can (even if that means playing catch up on your day off).

How to take advantage of meal prepping

Yes, meal prepping does take some time. It usually takes me 3 to 5 hours a week. However, this time is well-spent. It’s a good feeling when you have a healthy meal waiting for you to take to work the next day! Preparation is key to a nutritious meal. Often, if we have not brought our own meals to work, it’s easy to grab the cheapest available food (or feel guilty spending money on a healthier, more expensive choice). The cheapest food option is almost always less healthy than the meal you could have prepared at home. Plan in advance to avoid this mistake.

Focus on eating foods in their natural form (such as an apple instead of apple pie). Stay away from processed foods, which almost always have excess salt, sugar, and fat. Eat a rainbow- vegetables are full of fiber, which will keep you full.

If you find that you snack throughout the day because you can’t get a lunch break (or it’s just your preference), prepare sliced vegetables and pair with something high in protein, such as a handful of nuts, a few tablespoons of hummus, or string cheese. Whole fruits are always a an easy grab-and-go snack or lunch addition. Try plant-based meals a few times a week and see how it makes you feel (check out my favorite high protein vegan recipe).

Reminder! Water is the most essential component of your body and comprises about 60% of your weight. Lack of water can disrupt your metabolism, decrease your energy, and interrupt your critical thinking! Drink half of your body weight in ounces of water every day (if you weigh 140 pounds, drink 70 ounces of water per day – about 9 cups). Can’t get enough bathroom breaks during work for that to be possible? Drink plenty when you get home (unless you go straight to bed – then just have one glass to avoid interrupting rest). Start over the next day and work on getting adequate water then.

Finally, having healthy habits doesn’t mean that you never eat unhealthy foods. It simply means that you should eat them in moderation, and not feel guilty about it. Eating unhealthy foods in moderation help keep cravings in check and help prevent disordered eating habits and deprivation. You should be able to eat foods that you love!

How to fit exercise into an already busy schedule

Fitting exercise into a nurse’s schedule can be hard if you don’t create a routine that includes it. Being consistent is the key to success. If you can exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week, you can reap exercise benefits. This includes reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers (by up to 50%)!

First, find an exercise that you love. Do you hate running? Don’t run! Enjoy dancing? Find a Zumba or a hip-hop class that you enjoy. Many gyms or studios offer a variety of classes. There’s usually something for everyone, and class styles range from Barre to Cross-fit. Not a huge fan of the gym? There are many free home workouts and websites available – you just have to find what you like best!

Teaching Zumba for a community event!

Why getting enough sleep really matters

It’s likely we have all heard that not getting enough sleep can have devastating health effects. This includes weight gain, heart disease, and depression, to name a few. In the perfect world, we would all go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. If you work one shift, do this as often as you can.

No matter what shift you work, try to avoid looking at electronics about an hour before bedtime (I know, it’s hard). Use a sleep mask or blackout curtains when you go to bed to block out any artificial or natural light. This is especially important for those who works evening or night shift, as sunlight will naturally decrease your melatonin production, a hormone that helps regulate sleep.

If your body is telling you to nap, let yourself rest. People who do not get enough sleep tend to overeat and don’t think clearly. They are also less productive and have an increased chance of accidents when compared to people who do get enough sleep. Making your sleep hygiene a priority not only keeps you safe and healthy, but it keeps your patients safe as well.

Work night shift exclusively? Check out this post with tips on how to optimize sleep on a night shift schedule.

Why you should make a to-do list

Lists can make you more productive and efficient. Being able to cross items off your list can help you avoid procrastination, save time, and actually boost your self-confidence (we all need more of that!).

Planning can also help you structure a routine, even if it’s a weekly routine and not a daily one (how to maintain work life balance as a nurse). Know what you want to achieve that day or week and write it down. Treat exercising like an appointment – write it in your calendar and show up prepared! Also plan for self-care and time for fun, such as a date with a friend or a bike ride with your family member.

Other things you can do to make yourself happier and healthier

Find your purpose! Identify why you chose to be a nurse and what makes you happy in your career choice. What makes you happy in general? Is it simply being outside, or catching up with friends? Make sure to include that in your weekly or daily activities.

Be optimistic and positive. A positive attitude goes a long way for promoting healthy behaviors! Studies show that being grateful and thinking about the good things in your life actually shape your brain to be more positive. Take a minute at the end (or beginning) of each day and write down 3 things that you are grateful for.

Surround yourself with other healthy people. It’s easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle when you have a friend or family member who is exercising or meal prepping with you! Get outside and connect with nature. Being outside and getting sunlight during the day can help you sleep at night. Some studies also show that simply being outdoors can relieve stress.

Try something new! Take advantage of having different hours than the rest of the world and do something you’ve always wanted to do during your day off. Maybe you’ve wanted to try fly fishing, glass blowing, or welding (if you’re from Cleveland, our city offers all of these!). There’s likely a class near you! Check Groupon or your city’s website for a list of activities. Whatever you’re interested in, go for it and enjoy the benefits of trying something new (overcoming fear, boosting creativity, getting to know yourself better, etc.).

Take time off from social media. Sadly, studies show that being on social media (especially women) decreases our self-confidence and increases disordered eating. Social media has its time and place, but it should not replace in-person socializing. Grab a coffee with that friend you’ve been missing or go for a walk with a loved one instead of browsing Instagram.

This last part should be obvious, but attend regular checkups with your doctor or APRN to monitor your health. At your next appointment, ask them what health goals you should set for yourself. Get your immunizations and proper screening tests for your age (see U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommendations for preventative health screenings).

What changes (or routines) have you made that positively impact your health? What tips do you have for other nurses who work similar shifts? Let me know in the comments below!

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