As nurse practitioners one of our main roles is to provide our patients with guidance on how to effectively manage their health through preventative care. We advocate for healthy lifestyle habits. But when it comes to managing our own health, we often find ourselves making compromises. Between working full-time and balancing a home life filled with kids, laundry, grocery shopping and a million other errands to run, practicing what we preach can feel seemingly impossible, leaving us to feel like frauds.
After a long shift, we go home completely run down and utterly exhausted, just trying to survive by whatever means necessary. But as healthcare advocates, like it or not we have a responsibility to try our hardest to lead by example if we want to have credibility with our patients. Luckily, healthy living doesn’t have to take up too much more of our time. Here are six healthy habits even the busiest nurse practitioners can make to improve their own preventative healthcare plan.
Set realistic exercise goals
It’s no secret that regular exercise is like a little booster shot that’s vital to maintaining overall health; the benefits go beyond just creating and maintaining a strong physique. But for NPs with jam packed schedules, hitting the gym six days per week for an hour can be a near impossible to stick to (by the way, here’s how many calories you burn at work). Having unrealistic exercise goals that you simply don’t have time for can set you up for failure. The frustration of not being able to reach such standards may even cause you to throw in the towel on attempting regular exercise altogether.
Instead of trying to do copious amounts of weekly exercise, fitness experts suggest that you choose a routine that you can realistically stick with; one that you actually have time for and enjoy doing. One study in the American Journal of Physiology found 30 minutes of exercise to be just as effective as 60 when it came to weight loss. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of scheduling workouts on your calendar at the start of every week as well. Having a set time blocked off will remove a ton of excuses and you won’t have to stress about when you’ll have time to fit in exercise.
Eat a balanced meal before your shift
Opportunities to eat a balanced meal during a shift are few and far between; and even when you do have the chance to eat, the food options in the cafeteria and break room are not very nutritious (despite the setting). Regardless of whether you work the day shift, afternoon or night shift, make it a habit to eat a well balanced meal before you go to work. Ideally your pre-shift meal should be high in protein, carbohydrates and fiber. This will not only help you sustain energy levels while seeing patients, but healthy eating might actually help you to train your brain to prefer healthier foods altogether (according to a study by Tufts University and Massachusetts General Hospital). If you eat a healthy meal at the start of your day, you may be more inclined to make healthier choices throughout the remainder of the day as well.
Get the right amount of sleep
Getting the right amount of sleep is one habit you need to get into right away as it will not only improve your health but your job performance as well. Brain cognition, concentration, productivity and performance are all extremely necessary for NPs who want to excel in their practice, but studies have found that each of these are negatively affected when you’re sleep deprived. Other studies have concluded that sleep deprivation is directly linked to weight gain and can also cause individuals to eat more calories as it disrupts the daily fluctuations in appetite hormone. As an added bonus, getting adequate sleep will help you to have the energy to engage in other healthy habits like exercise.
If going to bed earlier is hard for you, try to start small by moving your bedtime up thirty minutes sooner than normal. Be sure to eliminate caffeine and alcohol at night and keep devices and other electronics out of your bedroom to promote better sleep (binge on these Netflix picks for NPs another time).
Up your water intake
Water is 100% essential in our bodies’ processes and daily functions like digestion, absorption and circulation (just to name a small few). Ideally you should drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water for optimal benefits; but having time to drink water is tricky when you’re a busy NP with limited breaks. To up your intake, drink a glass of water each morning before going for your usual cup of coffee, as well as with every meal. Most of the time it’s not really that people don’t have time to drink water but that they forget to because of lack of access, so make it a habit to carry a water bottle with you throughout your entire day. Make it a habit to take a sip every chance you get, like when you’re sitting at your desk, even if you’re not thirsty.
Invest in grab-and-go snacks
Healthy eating during your shift is hard, especially when there’s a vending machine around every corner and jars of tempting candy at the nurses station. Between your pre and post shift meal, junk food does nothing to satiate your hunger and low blood sugar in the long run. Power through the temptations by investing in some grab-and-go snacks that you can eat quickly like protein bars and nuts, which are also great because you can keep them in the pocket of your lab coat. Other great options to pack are yogurt and hassle free fruits like bananas.
Take time to relax
If all you want to do is spend what little free time you have propping your feet up and decompressing, then by all means do it. You know your body best and if you’re feeling run down and exhausted, it’s time to give yourself a much needed break. Relaxation techniques can include anything from a lazy Sunday on the couch, to scheduling a one hour massage or spending quality time with family and friends.
At the end of the day, nurse practitioners are people too. While we’re not any less susceptible to making bad habits than the next person, more than anything, we owe it to our patients to be better at making our health a priority too (are you as healthy as you tell your patients to be?).