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4 Common Nursing Lifestyle Habits that Might Hamper Your Health

For many nurses, their chosen profession brings a host of rewards, including a deep personal sense of satisfaction from making a positive difference in the lives of their patients, but it's not without its challenges.

For one thing, nursing can be stressful. Long hours on your feet, managing medical emergencies and meeting clinical demands can all take their toll on your body and mind. As a result, some nurses may develop unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as eating poorly, not getting enough sleep or not staying active enough. Learn what you can do to help combat these potentially damaging behaviors.

Impact of stress on nurses

A 2016 collaborative study completed by three researchers at the University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio; Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana; and Lock Haven University in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, sought to identify the impact of stress and subsequent coping mechanisms on the overall health of hospital-based nurses.

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The researchers administered a survey to 120 nurses employed at an American Midwestern hospital and asked them questions about their stress levels and other lifestyle habits.

In general, the findings indicated that the nurses were not healthy.

  • 92 percent of the nurses reported moderate to very high-stress levels
  • 78 percent slept fewer than 8 hours per night
  • 69 percent did not exercise regularly
  • 63 percent ate less than five daily servings of fruits and vegetables
  • 22 percent consumed five or more drinks on any one occasion, which is classified as binge drinking

Many of the nurses surveyed rated their health as good, which the researchers believed is not accurately reflective of their health behaviors and lifestyle. Check out some of the unhealthy lifestyle habits common to nurses below.

1. Eating poorly

When you're stressed, a fresh hot pizza or double cheeseburger might sound delicious, but it's important to know what these foods are doing to your body over time. Foods that are high in sodium and fat can have an overall negative impact on your health.

Some studies have found that lack of planning is a big contributor to unhealthy eating. If you didn't pack healthy snacks from home for your shift, such as pretzels, yogurt or granola, it's easy to be roped into going to the vending machine for salty or sugary options. It's fine to treat yourself once in a while, but try your best not to make it a habit.

Thinking ahead is key: Bring leftovers from home for eating at meal times and your own snacks to stave off hunger. This way you can ensure you're making healthy choices.

2. Not getting enough sleep

Nurses who work the night shift know all about the struggle to get enough sleep. On days they're scheduled to work, nurses get by on an average of 6.8 hours of a sleep per night instead of the recommended 8 hours.

Long-term sleep deprivation can have serious consequences, including increasing your risk of certain types of cancer. One such study demonstrated that working a night shift for at least three nights per month for 15 years or more may increase a woman's risk of developing colorectal cancer. And for postmenopausal women who worked for 30 years or more on rotating night shifts, one study found their risk of developing breast cancer may be elevated.

Nurses who work the night shift have another battle to fight when it comes to sleep: their natural circadian rhythm. Night-shift nurses tend to get less sleep than their day-shift colleagues. Moreover, sleep acquired during the day is less restorative and tends to be shorter.

3. Drinking too much alcohol

While having a glass of wine when you're off-duty can be relaxing - and some research has shown that one glass of red wine per day can actually be heart-healthy - binge drinking, defined as having four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men, can be potentially damaging to your health.

Excessive alcohol consumption can increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and liver disease. As with most things, consume in moderation to stay healthy.

4. Not getting enough exercise

Less active people have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Lack of physical activity can also potentially lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.

The bottom line is that exercise makes you feel good. If you need to blow off steam or need a natural mood lift, exercise can help, whether it's a vigorous outdoor walk or indoor gym session.

Even though you might think you get plenty of exercise walking up and down your unit's floors, it's likely not consistent enough. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobics each week to ensure maximum health benefits.

Educating yourself about these common nursing life style habits and how to combat them can help improve your quality of life and ensure you remain healthy. And if you love nursing but you're not wild about your current job, consider applying for travel nursing assignments through AMH to break the routine and provide a chance to create healthier habits.

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