Nurses walk 2.4 to 3.4 miles in a 10-hour daytime shift and 1.2 to 3.5 miles a day when they re not working.
Photo: Dean Mitchell
Photo: Dean Mitchell

Staying healthy as we age

Nurses face unique challenges staying fit.

Healthy aging is an issue for Georgia nurses, at least 60 percent of whom are 50 or older.

Research by the American Nurses Association shows the health of the nation’s nurses is worse than that of the average American, based on key indicators.

Specifically, nurses are more likely to be overweight, have higher levels of stress and sleep fewer hours than recommended, according to the ANA’s Health Risk Appraisal.

Hospitals, which employ a large share of the nation’s estimated 3.8 million nurses, acknowledge there’s a problem. A 2015 survey found about 87 percent of all hospitals – including most in metro Atlanta – have put programs in place to help their employees trim down and shape up. These include everything from exercise classes to one-on-one counseling and discounted Weight Watchers memberships.

Michael J. Staufacker, health management director at Emory University, said obesity can have many serious consequences, including high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea and six types of cancer.

Stress that’s left unchecked and a lack of sleep also are risk factors for high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, as well as obesity, Staufacker said.

“Lack of sleep can affect people’s performance, including their ability to think clearly, react quickly and form memories,” he said.

Ann E. Rogers, professor at Emory’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, says the health picture for nurses isn’t all bad.

“I’m not saying that nurses don’t have weight problems, smoke too much, are highly stressed and don’t obtain enough sleep,” Rogers said.

“But there is at least some data to contradict the assertion that their health is worse than the average American. Also, even if you’re older and have chronic health problems and/or carry extra weight, you have to be in pretty good health to work the typical 12-hour shifts worked by most hospital nurses.”

She cites data from the Centers for Disease Control and elsewhere, showing:

  • 7 percent to 8 percent of nurses smoke, far fewer than the 13.5 percent of the nation’s female population that smokes;
  • Nurses walk 2.4 to 3.4 miles in a 10-hour daytime shift and 1.2 to 3.5 miles a day when they’re not working.

At DeKalb Medical Center, nurses and other employees can participate in wellness programs, such as Weight Watchers, staff boot camps, and smoking cessation, said Beth Jansa, public relations manager.

In recent years, Emory University and Emory Healthcare have “made inroads in many health-related employee behaviors, including physical activity, nutrition, and stress management, Staufacker said.

Emory also just launched a new sleep education program – Sleep Better! Be Better! – for employees, he added.

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