The Pros and Cons of Working on Your Feet
By Megan Murdock Krischke, contributor
Nurses may complain about aching feet and tired muscles from working on their feet for extended periods, but researchers at Cornell University say that sitting down for too long can have negative health effects, too. In fact, a sedentary lifestyle can shorten life expectancy, according to their new study.
The researchers found that women who were sedentary for 11 or more hours each day saw a 12 percent rise in all-cause premature mortality, compared with women who only had four, or fewer, hours of inactivity per day. This is good news for most nurses who often spend most of a 12-hour shift in constant motion.
“Jobs that keep you moving have the benefit of increasing your step count and potentially improving your compliance with cardiovascular health guidelines,” remarked Venu Akuthota, MD, professor and vice-chair of physical medicine and rehabilitation and director of The Spine Center at the University of Colorado.
“It doesn’t appear as though you need a lot of intensity; something as simple as standing or just walking from room to room creates muscle contractions,” stated Ray Browning, assistant professor in the department of health and exercise science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. “These muscle contractions have a positive relationship to regulating blood glucose.”
Browning added that although the physical work of nursing may not prepare you to run a 5K, it does have an impact. The standing and walking even makes it more difficult to maintain problematic postures, such as slumped shoulders.
And nurses who are involved in patient care aren’t just standing on their feet for an entire shift, but are moving about.
“If someone was just standing all day, I would be concerned. There is an increased risk of circulatory problems, swelling in the feet and heart problems, but moving helps with all that,” explained Karen Jacobs, EdD, OTR/L, CPE, FAOTA, a clinical professor of occupational therapy and a board certified professional ergonomist at Boston University College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College.
“Even so, I would encourage nurses to also try to find a few minutes to sit and put their feet up--perhaps while grabbing something to eat,” Jacobs added. “Flex and point your feet, move them around.”
One drawback to a nurse’s hectic schedule is that it be difficult to find time to take these breaks to sit and eat. It is easy to become dehydrated, as well.
Jacob recommends a free app called “Stretch Break for Kids.” The app, which can be found on the iTunes store, pops up every 30 minutes with a reminder to stretch.
“Putting the app on a phone can remind nurses to take micro-breaks to stretch and get a drink of water,” she commented.
“Physically demanding jobs like nursing can be considered the equivalent to an exercise regimen,” stated Akuthota. “If you don’t train for it, your muscles, tendons and cardiopulmonary apparti may not be ready for it.”
Along these lines, Jacobs recommends connecting with an occupational therapist (OT), noting that OTs are frequently in the same work environments as nurses. An OT could consult with individual nurses or speak at a floor meeting to give specific recommendations for exercises and improving postures.
“Even though going to work may feel like a workout for nurses, they shouldn’t neglect exercise that increases core strength, flexibility and muscular-skeletal strength,” added Browning. “Nursing is a high-activity job, but it is also a high-risk job. Engaging in outside exercise, like yoga, can reduce a nurse’s risk of injury or chronic pain.”
Both Browning and Jacobs emphasized the importance of supportive footwear on the job. Nurses, like runners, should change shoes every 200-300 miles, or at least twice a year, and adding insoles to shoes can ensure there is enough support.
“Looking at their whole lifestyle is really important, particularly for travel nurses because their lives are often disrupted,” Jacobs commented. “For optimum health, nurses should be intentional about creating good routines of work and play and developing, what we call in the OT world, meaningful companions.” She added that travelers should make the effort to socialize and develop friendships to avoid feeling lonely while on assignment.
“A good before-bed routine is always helpful, and even more so when you are doing shift work. Taking time to have some herbal tea, hot milk, to read a book or to take a warm bath before bed can lead to more peaceful sleep,” Jacobs concluded.
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