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OPINION

'Living healthily doesn’t just mean going to the gym'

  • 5 Comments

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.

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

  • 5 Comments

Readers' comments (5)

  • Absolutely agree that Nurses often do not practice what they preach. I am proud to say I do, and can offer real advice on healthy living from my own knowledge and experience. I often see Nurses chain smoking or binge drinking and then tut tutting at patients for doing the same. I have even met severly obese nutritionists! I mean how can people really take their advice seriously?

    Healthy living isn't about the gimmicks or the tricks mentioned above. It is very, very easy to live healthily. Cooking your own meals and eating a balanced diet isn't difficult. Finding time to work out a few times a week isn't difficult. ETC ETC.

    To coin a phrase, just do it!

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  • Mike I couldn't agree more. I too take plenty of exercise and eat healthily, and see lots of staff around the trust getting fatter and fatter! They are hardly role models are they?
    Neither are the ones who stink of cigarettes all the time.

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  • I too eat healthily and exercise and interestingly the three comments so far have been from people who clearly have an interest in well being and may have been drawn to the article.

    However, I have a lot of sympathy for people who find if difficult to change, I think people get sucked into a position they find it hard to escape from, and agree with the article that the identification of barriers to change are key.

    Whilst weight is no barrier to nursing knowledge, it is a truth of life that people are judged, pretty quickly and I don't think that being excessively overweight, or smelling of cigarettes gives people confidence.

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  • Very true Sara, you are right that there is a noticeable absence from many people on this topic. However I find myself less sympathetic about those 'sucked into a position'. The vast majority of 'barriers to change' in my opinion are simply nothing more than excuses.

    It is more about ideology change. I for example fervently believe in the importance of staying healthy, keeping strong and fit. Not just to look good (although that is a nice bonus), but to ensure my body is strong enough for the demands I put it through now, and will be healthy enough not to succumb to many of the conditions I treat on a day to day basis when I get older. It is not something i HAVE to do on top of my normal routine, I believe it is an essential part of life, the same as eating or sleeping.

    The vast majority of people do not have this simple ideology, many would not even comprehend its importance. To many 'eating healthily and excercise' means getting a few less buses and starving themselves just so they can fit into a dress/pair of jeans, a plan to be abandoned as soon as the holiday/wedding/event is over.

    Education is key, I think most people don't have a basic clue on how to eat healthy and stay fit (just look at the sheer amount of ridiculous fad diets that infest womens magazines, and that ridiculous slimming world culture). But overall, ideology change is needed.

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  • I just don't think it's quite that simple... but we'll agree to differ!

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