Registered nurses as role models for healthy lifestyles

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Penny Heidke
Wendy L Madsen
Erika M Langham


lifestyle risk factors, health behaviour, physical exercise, patient education


Objective: The aim of this paper is to report on registered nurses’ adherence to current Australian health behaviour recommendations. Barriers and facilitators to healthy lifestyles, and their attitudes towards being role models and promoting healthy lifestyles to their patients.

Background: It is widely accepted that a healthy diet, limiting alcohol consumption, abstinence from smoking and regular physical exercise are important components of healthy lifestyles and play a significant role in preventing chronic diseases. Nurses are well situated to contribute to providing health and patient education regarding modifiable health risk factors, however their own adherence to health behaviours may impact this.

Study design and methods: The research is a mixed methods study of 123 registered nurses from both public and private organisations in Regional Queensland. Data for this paper were generated from an online survey which is the first of two phases in the broader study.

Results: Four health risk factors were examined; diet, smoking, physical exercise and alcohol consumption. BMI was also calculated and considered as a fifth risk factor. Of this sample, 13% of participants met the guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake, 5.2% smoked, and only 24.2% exercised enough to be classed sufficiently active for their health. Of the 93.62% of participants whom consumed alcohol, 69.3% consumed more than 2 standard drinks/day. The most common barriers to adhering to healthy lifestyles were shift work, long working hours and family commitments.

Conclusion: Many nurses are not adhering to healthy lifestyle recommendations. It is recommended that the health and wellbeing of our health professionals, especially nurses be considered.  Providing support and resources to enable them to care for themselves, may in turn allow them to better care for patients.

Implications for research, policy, and practice: Research is needed into strategies to enable registered nurses’ better work/life balance. To make a real difference to health outcomes, nurses own health and health education needs to be made a priority that is supported and implemented at multiple points: by policymakers, within nursing practice, nursing curriculum, and in healthcare institutions. Nurses need to be supported in the provision health education to their patients with better resources, education and time allocation. Future research should include studies conducted in different regions or ideally a large nationally representative sample.

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