Nurses, midwives and nursing and midwifery students are in a respected and vital position, providing care to individuals and their families within a diverse range of settings across Australia. As with any member of the community, they are not immune to experiencing health issues.
The importance of a physically active lifestyle for the Australian population is well known. Over half of Australian adults do not meet physical activity recommendations, which makes this a more prevalent risk factor. The Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Health Survey shows that 63% of Australians aged 18 and over are either overweight or obese. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reported in 2018, one in 2 (50%) Australians are estimated to have a chronic disease with nearly 1 in 4 (23%) are estimated to have two or more diagnosed chronic health conditions such as arthritis, asthma, back problems, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or mental health conditions. It also reports, 64.9% of nurses and midwives in Australia experience at least one chronic disease, which included depression, hypertension and asthma.
Nurses make up the largest component of the health workforce and provide the majority of patient care. Most health education is delivered by nurses, who also serve as healthy living and behavioural role models. Anything that diminishes their health status can impact their credibility as role models, their availability and ability to deliver quality care and is potentially disadvantageous for the health of the population. Nurses face multiple negative stressors and report the greatest stress of all healthcare workers. Many nurses present with risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease e.g. physical inactivity, sedentary behaviour, overweight/obesity, hypertension, dyslipidaemia, diabetes, smoking, depression and anxiety. Several studies have found low levels of physical activity with nurses, with most not meeting physical activity guidelines and high levels of sedentary behaviour. Nurses working rotating shifts, 12-hour shifts and/or working full-time or part-time (vs. casual) may be at greater risk of physical inactivity; however, the opposite has been observed for sedentary behaviour. The National Health Survey 2017-18 indicates 1 in 2 adults (55%) did not participate in sufficient physical activity with males (15.2%) and females (14.4%) were considered inactive. Globally in 2016, 23% of men and 32% of women aged 18+ years were insufficiently physically active. Over the past 15 years, levels of insufficient activity did not improve (28.5% in 2001; 27.5% in 2016).
Nurses know exercise is good for their physical and mental health, but incorporating it into their busy lives can be a challenge. The only types of exercise some nurses have time for are working long shifts, juggling life’s demands, balancing the books, jumping on the bandwagon, climbing the ladder of success and skipping meals. Nurses have no problem describing the many benefits of exercise to help patients change their behaviour to improve their help. Ironically, the first behaviour nurses need to change is to work toward improving their own exercise habits. It is important for nurses to look after their own physical health and commit to regular exercise. Here are some of the benefits of exercise and how to get moving. Nurses’ physical performance at work has implications both for nurses’ occupational health and patient care. Although nurses are present 24-hours a day and engage in many physically demanding tasks, nurses’ occupational physical activity levels are poorly understood. “Physical inactivity is the fourth biggest killer in the world”
The Importance of Exercise
Exercise and physical activity are important for all ages and stages in life. In a physically intensive profession like nursing and midwifery, it is important to look after your physical health. Keeping active also directly influences your ability to maintain and improve your psychological and emotional health. It is recommended that nurses aim to exercise 30 minutes a day, five times per week. The good news is that exercise does not have to be expensive and there are many options available to help you meet your goals.
Choose an Activity
Look for a physical activity that you enjoy and are motivated to keep doing. You could try: walking, running, swimming, yoga or Pilates, dancing, tennis, bike riding, or team sports such as netball, basketball or football. Start slowly to build up your resilience. If you haven’t exercised much recently speak to a doctor about how to get started. Due to COVID-19, some state and territory governments have different physical activity restrictions. See your state or territory website for more information on ‘’What you can and can’t do under the rules’’ Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia
To ensure physical distancing to stop the spread of the virus, there are still many ways you can be active while maintaining physical distance.
Out and about – you can still exercise in some public places. You can meet up with a friend, family member, or trainer. You can: walk, jog, ride a bike or scooter, kick a ball at the oval
At Home – Physical activity you can do at home includes: weights training — if you don’t have any weights, make your own with filled water bottles, cans or jars, yoga, Pilates, backyard sports, going up and down stairs, on-the-spot running, star jumps, sit ups and push ups, gardening, dancing, virtual fitness classes, Zoom or Skype group lounge exercises with your friends
Increasing your Fitness – as your physical health improves it’s a good idea to vary the type of activities that you do.
- Strength and resistance training, improves muscle and bone strength.
- Flexibility exercise, improves joint and muscle range of motion.
- Cardiovascular exercise/aerobics training, improves physical endurance and personal stamina.
- Balance/core workouts, improves balance and co-ordination and increases abdominal strength.
Feeling Good – no matter the exercise, you will benefit from it triggering the release of ‘feel good’ chemicals from your brain.
- Serotonin – reduces depression, hostility, and improves social behaviour.
- Dopamine – improves mood and long-term memory.
- Endorphins – produces a natural high’ response and can also act as an analgesic, diminishing the perception of pain, and also act as a sedative.
Other benefits of exercise
- reduces the risk of depression and/or anxiety
- assists in improving mental health
- improves mood and concentration
- reduces stress
- reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- reduces the risk of osteoporosis and improves bone density
- improves immunity
- improves sleep quality
- improves maintenance of weight/weight control
- reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes
- lowers the risk of some cancers, and
- assists with pain management.
What can I do next?
With so many fast-paced changes in health care currently happening, now is the time for nurses to engage in the benefits of physical activity and to translate into practice. Nurses have a responsibility to not only share health information to patients, but owe it to yourselves to be role models for patients and be in the best of health in order to carry out your nursing roles efficiently. Physical activity is essential for good health, and those nurses who participate in physical activity are more likely to reap the benefits of good health such as lower sickness absence, increased loyalty to their workplace and better recruitment retention.
There are a number of resources available for nurses to help increase their knowledge around how physical activity helps prevent as well as treat diseases associated with no or lower levels of exercise. The Australian Government, Department of Health ‘Make your move — Sit less — Be active for life!’ is a helpful brochure about the importance of being active and how it can improve your health.