You’re a Nurse. How’s Your Heart Health?

Nurses and Heart HealthBy Bernnie Kennedy, RN, Director, Cardiology Nursing Supervision, Methodist Mansfield Medical Center

Nurses and Heart HealthBeing a nurse has its share of occupational challenges, but did you know nurses are at great risk for heart attacks? And if you work the night shift, that could mean even more trouble for your health.

Several studies have documented that nurses struggling with work pressures have double the risk of heart attacks. Nurses who work more than 10 hours a day are especially at risk. This is frightening news, since most nurses work more than seven hours a day.

As for night shift employees, research shows one in five middle-aged women had at least three of the following risk factors for heart attacks, including:

  • Abdominal obesity (higher waist circumference)
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated blood glucose
  • Elevated triglycerides
  • Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol

In spite of this news, many hospital leaders recognize the importance of creating a positive work environment to support its nursing staff. Wellness programs, preventive care, and work/life balance help staff members lead healthier lives and positively manage stress.

At Methodist Health System, we support our nurses and encourage them to lower stress levels in these ways:

  • Maintain good physical health. Stay healthy by monitoring weight, blood pressure, blood glucose, and overall cholesterol. Long-term, a healthy nurse is healthier for patients as well.
  • Find balance. It’s impossible to work long shifts day after day without some downtime. Find time for relaxation after work and if you need a break, ask for one.
  • Eat right. Nutritious foods keep the body fueled and boost the immune system.
  • Get enough sleep. Aim for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Our brains need this to learn and retain new information, improve efficiency and attentiveness, and decrease fatigue-related emotional overreaction. (Source: Center for BrainHealth)
  • Exercise. Walking, running, cycling, or whatever gets us moving releases endorphins, which combat the negative effects of stress.

With the holidays upon us, it’s crucial to manage stress at work and at home. According to a Circulation study, fatal heart attacks in the general population peak on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Here are some common-sense steps to guard your heart during the holidays:

  • Think ahead and act. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Get your flu and/or pneumonia shot if you haven’t already. Infection and fever add stress to the heart.
  • Eat for heart health. Reduce salt intake, limit high-calorie meals and party foods, and limit alcohol. Too much alcohol can lead to atrial fibrillation, which increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.
  • Don’t exert yourself beyond your ability. Too much physical exertion that you’re not accustomed to (like running the White Rock Marathon if you haven’t been training), anger, and emotional stress are heart stressors.
  • Dress for the season. That means warmly, if temperatures dive. Try to avoid exposure to cold temperatures.
  • Listen to your heart. If you experience chest pain, don’t put off having it checked out. Call 911 for help. Many people think they’ll wait until the holidays are over, but time is critical.

It’s time to take stress seriously. Working in an organization that supports its staff is the first step toward maintaining your physical and emotional health. Preventive education, understanding and processing critical incidents (traumatic stress), and talking with family members or peers are other ways to shore yourself up against the emotional costs of being a nurse.

To work at Methodist Health System, where your heart matters, visit Jobs.MethodistHealthSystem.org.

EOE/M/F/D/V

© Methodist Health System

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