Nurses will be more aware than most people of the importance of a healthy lifestyle. But, just like the rest of us, knowing the benefits doesn’t necessarily translate into action.
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For nurses who provide health instruction there are added benefits. Health advice is more likely to be acted on if the person giving it demonstrates the healthy behaviours themselves - in other words, your patient is more likely to quit smoking if you’ve given up yourself.
Why don’t we live more healthily? We aren’t letting ourselves off lightly if we acknowledge that, despite our best intentions, things often get in the way. In most cases, there will be both internal and external barriers. Internal barriers include motivation and belief in abilities; those that are external include not having a gym nearby, fatty food being available in the canteen or having peers who aren’t living healthily.
Healthier behaviours will often be in competition with those that are less healthy but more enjoyable. It would be a lot easier to embark on a regime of healthier eating and consuming less alcohol if colleagues didn’t invite us for curry and a pint every Friday. And it would be easier to give up smoking if it didn’t mean missing out on banter with other smokers and the opportunity to take five minutes out from a hectic day. Nursing can be particularly stressful, so after an exhausting day with barely a break, curling up on the sofa is likely to be vastly more appealing than a gruelling 20 lengths at the swimming pool.
So, what can you do? The first step is finding out what the main barriers are to adopting healthier behaviours. Then see if you can get some support, from your organisation or from colleagues and friends, to start breaking those barriers down. And while this can be tougher for nurses than most owing to their profession, some local schemes are helping.
The Queens Medical Centre (QMC) Campus of Nottingham University Hospital Trust’s ‘Q-Active’ programme is one of them. It found that nurses believed that, as professional carers, it would be selfish if they took time out for themselves. Nurses also felt that, if they were doing their job to the full, they shouldn’t have the energy to exercise as well. High sickness absences put staff under further strain, making them too stressed to exercise.
To overcome these barriers, the QMC encouraged staff to relax through group activities and exercise. A staff wellbeing room was set up, with relaxation therapies and a gym. The QMC held regular events to create excitement - with free class demonstrations, competitions and giveaways. This sent the message that living healthily didn’t just mean going to the gym - there were lots of ways of doing it and, what’s more, it could be fun. Importantly, health champions from among the staff provided advice, information and encouragement.
Peer pressure can lead you astray, but it can also be a great motivator to getting fit and staying healthy. If you and your colleagues work together, you’re more likely to succeed in the long term. By forming a wellbeing group you can jointly come up with fun ideas, keep each other on track or even compete. If you’re put off walking home because it’s dark, why not form a walking group? If healthy food isn’t on offer at your workplace, why not start a joint collection to get healthier snacks more cheaply? Maybe even buy a reward for whoever in the wellbeing group makes the greatest change to promote healthier behaviour.
John Bromley is director of The National Social Marketing Centre (www.thensmc.com). For ideas on how to adopt healthier lifestyles, see the NSMC’s case study database at tinyurl.com/nsmc-database
'Living healthily doesn’t just mean going to the gym'