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Advice on standing up for your health

By AMEALYA BLAKE, Registered Nurse with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York | 5/22/2014, 11:27 a.m.
Amealya Blake

May 6 marked the start of National Nurses Week, a week set aside to recognize the men and women who have dedicated their lives to the field of nursing. As a public health nurse who focuses on providing in-home care to New Yorkers who are coping with disabilities or chronic health conditions, I wanted to give a shout-out to home care nurses in our community who make it possible for our aging parents and loved ones to stay independent and active as they get older.

On any given day, a registered nurse serving patients at home may be called upon to help prevent or treat illnesses as wide-ranging as pediatric emergencies or multiple chronic conditions associated with our older population. Nurses help diagnose and treat diseases, injuries and disabilities. They dress wounds, facilitate infusions, administer medications and provide other kinds of direct patient care. Many are on the front lines, helping to improve our country’s health care delivery every single day.

One of the best ways to celebrate these valued and often unsung public health heroes is to share wisdom from the nursing front lines here in our own backyard. Recently, much conversation has surrounded the heightened risks associated with extended sitting and adopting sedentary lifestyles as we age, including heart attack, kidney disease and poor mental health.

Here in New York, the nurses and physical therapists who work with me at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York understand the complexity of caring for individuals who are prone to decreased mobility and sitting too long. Studies published recently in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health showed that the odds of seniors becoming disabled were almost 50 percent greater for each hour spent in sedentary behavior, and adults over 60 are sedentary an average of nine hours every day, which Australian researchers found could lead to a shorter life expectancy.

The following are suggestions designed to counteract the dangers of an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. I hope they will encourage you to stand up for your own health.

  • Take a more active approach to everyday activities: It is important to separate “movement” from “exercise.” Is the thought of exercise overwhelming? Then choose small actions throughout the day that can add up to big benefits. Try to stand up every half hour and walk into another room, stretch before and after every television program, swing your arms on the way to the bathroom, or walk around when talking on the phone.
  • Warm up: Muscles and joints may become tight and stiff from prolonged sitting, which makes them more susceptible to sprains and strains. Warm up to guard against injuries; do some gentle stretching and walk in place to get your body geared up for the day.
  • Buddy up: Going to a local recreation facility or senior center for light exercise classes offers more than just physical advantages. Chances are, you’ll find role models there who are trying new things, and you’ll be inspired to continue participating by the sense of belonging and camaraderie found in joining a group.
  • Enjoy the psychological rewards: The improved energy and mobility that comes with increased movement can be a great boost to keep older adults out of their seats. Even moderate physical activity contributes to a better mood and self-esteem, which is great motivation to keep going.
  • Change your surroundings: If you normally keep the remote next to your chair, try keeping it on top of the TV. Getting up to walk across the room to change the channel will improve the elasticity of muscles. Likewise, moving foods and medicines to a slightly higher or lower shelf will promote bending and stretching.
  • Resist the urge to overindulge: When focusing on ways to improve, it is easy to get over-enthusiastic and try to do too much at once. Taking care of yourself physically over the long run will give you the strength you’ll need for the days when you’d rather do nothing. Keep goals reasonable and try to work a little movement into each day, even if it’s just getting off couch to fetch a book or newspaper. If the choice is sitting or standing, choose to stand or even march in place. You’ll be fighting chronic disease, one step at a time.

To learn more about programs that can help you or someone you love, visit www.vnsny.org or call 1-800-675-0391.