We all know that we should look after our own health, but sometimes this is easier said, or thought, than done. We know that health encompasses many things, after all, we promote healthy lifestyle choices to our patients daily. These range from taking time for yourself to manage stress levels, to eating a range of healthy foods, to keeping active and being outside. Health is an ever-evolving concept and it is becoming more evident how one action can have a direct impact on many aspects of health. For example, smoking and alcohol consumption, evidence shows that both these activities have a negative impact on our physical health (Warner 2014; World Health Organization, 2014), however they have also been proven to have an impact on mental health (McManus et al., 2010; World Health Organization, 2014). On a more positive note, walking is physically good for us (NHS, 2016) and studies have shown that being outside and taking part in low impact physical activity also has mental health benefits (Roe and Aspinall, 2011; Mamman and Faulkner, 2013).
So, what exactly can you do to stay healthy as a student nurse?
1) My first tip would be to start small. You don’t need to run marathons, never order a takeaway or stop all unhealthy habits in one day. Small changes are much more likely to stick.
2) Get physically active and not just while you are on shift. Could you get off the bus a few stops early, cycle commute or do a gym class on your way home? Fitting activity into your day doesn’t have to be a chore. If you have more time perhaps try joining a club, climbing, football, archery or anything else you fancy.
3) Batch cook healthy meals on days off, then you have things you can grab from the fridge or freezer when you are short on time. Similarly, prepare a few lunches at once so that you have something to take to university or placement and you are less tempted to buy unhealthy food out.
4) Plan time to do nothing. In reality this doesn’t mean actually doing nothing, just not doing anything that is work/university/placement related, nor doing the housework. You could try colouring in, having a bath, doing some yoga, reading a book or baking. Something which helps you to switch your mind off for a bit and helps you feel restored.
5) Get your friends involved, there’s so many benefits to doing things as a group. If you are a competitive person set up a challenge, this could be how many steps you can do in a day, or how many days you can go without eating chocolate or having an alcoholic drink. Organise a healthy come dine with me style competition, or if you live with other people you could take it in turns to cook for each other and try out new foods.
6) Finally, get organised and work out where you could make a healthy change in your day. Being organised and knowing what you need to do and for when can really help reduce stress and anxiety around deadlines and workload.
There are some great apps available to help you stay active and make healthy choices, some of the best are:
• One You Couch to 5K – Public Health England
• Change4Life Smart Recipes – Public Health England
• Goal Tracker & Habit List & Workout Calendar
Doing a nursing degree is hard and everyone is human, but we can all try our best to make healthier choices for ourselves and our patients. Try not to beat yourself up if you don’t achieve your goals or if you don’t have time to be as active as you would like one week, life is all about balance. Unfortunately, despite our best intentions’ life gets in the way sometimes, if this happens take a step back, re-evaluate and start again. Remember, small steps.
Written by Ellie Bullman @EllieBullman93
Mammen, G. and Faulkner, G. (2013) ‘Physical activity and the prevention of depression: A systematic review of prospective studies’, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 45(5), pp. 649- 657, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2013.08.001
McManus, S., Meltzer, H. and Campion, J. (2010) Cigarette smoking and mental health in England: Data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2007, London: National Centre for Social Research
NHS (2016) Walking for Health. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/walking-for- health/ (Accessed 17/2/19)
Roe, J. and Aspinall, P. (2011) ‘The restorative benefits of walking in urban and rural settings in adults with good and poor mental health’, Health and Place, 17(1), pp. 103-113. doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2010.09.003
Warner, K. (2014) ‘50 years since the first surgeon general’s report on smoking and health: A happy anniversary?’, American Journal of Public Health, 104(1), pp. 5-8
World Health Organization (2014) Global status report on alcohol and health 2014. Geneva: World Health Organization.