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Stress, shifts, long hours and lack of exercise are putting nurses at risk - Research - Nurses Arena Forum

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Stress, shifts, long hours and lack of exercise are putting nurses at risk by katty : March 28, 2018, 12:17:08 AM
They might be the backbone of the health-care workforce, but nurses are not looking after their own health.

New research led by the University of Ottawa Heart Institute found that few nurses meet Canadian physical activity guidelines and a “substantial number” have cardiovascular risk factors, such as obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension.

Combine that with long hours, shift work and often stressful work conditions, and you have a crucial workforce at risk, said Jennifer Reed, director of exercise physiology and the cardiovascular health lab at the heart institute and lead author of the study published Tuesday in the International Journal of Nursing Studies.

“We have health-care providers whose own health is suffering,” she said.

Absentee rates for Canadian nurses tell part of the story. About 24,000 nurses are absent from work each week in Canada due to illness, something that can cost hospitals millions of dollars a year.

“I think if we don’t intervene, the absenteeism rates will continue to rise,” said Reed.

Previous research, including a 2005 national survey done by Statistics Canada, found a significant number of nurses are overweight or obese and have other cardiovascular risks.

Reed’s research, on 410 nurses in the Champlain LHIN region, found 77 per cent of hospital nurses do not meet physical activity guidelines.

Rotating shifts and 12-hour shifts are among factors that may prevent nurses from meeting the recommended levels of physical activity, said Reed.

The findings are somewhat surprising, given that nurses are on their feet all day. But Reed said changes in the way nursing is practised — with more work being done on computers — and hospitals are designed, with beds just steps away from nursing stations, mean nurses can’t count on fulfilling their physical activity requirements on the job.

“There used to be long corridors that nurses would walk up and down all day. Now they stand all day, but the distance covered is not that much.”

The kinds of shifts nurses work can also make it hard for them to find time, and energy, to work out.

“It is all-consuming,” said Jane Brownrigg, clinical manager of cardiac rehab at the heart institute and long-time frontline nurse. “Everybody is aware that it is not just physical work being a nurse. There are also the psychological demands and the mental fatigue.”

Brownrigg, who participated in the study, said she works hard at staying in shape, but for nurses work shifts — unlike Brownrigg — that can be “extremely challenging.”

“When you are working a 12-hour shift, that is what you are doing all day. When you are exhausted, you are not reaching for broccoli.”

She added that nurses, especially those working at the heart institute, are faced daily with cardiovascular risk factors. “We don’t have any excuse.”

She also said nurses are often the face of the health-care system and serve as role models for patients. But the nature of nursing, she said, can present barriers for people.

Reed said action is needed on the part of nursing organizations and governments to find ways to target physical activity among nurses.

She said she would like to see the research done in the Champlain region replicated across the country and then interventions developed to increase levels of physical activity among nurses.

“I think nurses provide excellent patient care, but often their own health is sacrificed at the expense of patients. The message is we need to take care of those who take care of us.”

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