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Increasing awareness of the health benefits of exercise

VOL: 100, ISSUE: 46, PAGE NO: 39

Lesley-Ann Maxwell, is nursing student at the University of Wales, Swansea

I was interested in the article by Rollo (2004) because it highlighted a health issue that has become increasingly ...

I was interested in the article by Rollo (2004) because it highlighted a health issue that has become increasingly relevant to nursing practice. As a final-year nursing student, the article encouraged me to consider and reflect upon the role of the nurse in promoting physical activity. This is an issue relevant to a large number of patients because it concerns both sexes and a wide range of age groups.

The article accentuates a number of health-related benefits of physical activity that are relevant to a large number of patients. Conditions that may be prevented or improved through exercise include obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and psychological well-being.

Nurses have an important role in identifying those who need to increase their exercise levels and educating and supporting them in achieving healthier lifestyles. According to the Royal College of Physicians et al (2004), over half the UK population was overweight or obese in 2002 - 70 per cent of men and 63 per cent of women.

Overweight children have a 50 per cent chance of being overweight adults. If current trends continue it is estimated that at least one-third of adults, one-fifth of boys, and one-third of girls will be obese by 2020.

The article prompted me to reflect on the use of the health belief model in health promotion. This illustrates how an individual's perception of a change in lifestyle may be influenced by factors such as lack of motivation or lowered self-esteem. Nurses need to be empathetic and encouraging in these circumstances because it is only by identifying the individual's core health beliefs and correcting/developing existing knowledge that health-promoting goals can be achieved.

Clearly physical activity must be complemented by a balanced nutritional intake to be effective. Nurses must have a solid understanding of dietary requirements in order to be able to offer accurate advice. However, we should also be able to recognise when a patient's nutritional status requires specialist referral to a dietitian.

The article reminded me that all aspects of nursing require an individualistic approach. For example, some forms of exercise will be more appealing to certain individuals than others. It is therefore necessary to discuss the patient's choices and preferences. Hopefully, this would improve the person's compliance to prescribed exercise. This will make it a more enjoyable activity - and one that is perceived as recreation.

National policy, including a number of the national service frameworks emphasise the importance of exercise. Nurses have a responsibility to provide patients with the information and support they need to adopt healthier lifestyles.

I feel all nurses would benefit from reading the article because it urges one to consider how professional practice can be improved through simple interventions that have the potential to reap genuine health benefits for our patients.

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