Exercise, physical activity, eating a balanced diet is really important for both our physical health and mental health. However, it can often be difficult to schedule in or to find the motivation to do it - especially at times for staff working in health and social care settings.
A balanced diet is one that includes healthy amounts of proteins, essential fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. The food we eat can influence the development, management and prevention of numerous mental health conditions including depression and low mood.
What we eat doesn’t just affect our physical health: it can also affect our mental health and wellbeing, explore more below:
Healthy eating involves eating a variety of foods to ensure that your body is getting all of the energy and nutrients that it needs.
The Eatwell Guide is the UK's healthy eating model and aims to help you understand how much food from each food group you should be having in order to maintain a healthy and balanced diet (you do not need to achieve this balance with every meal, but try to get the balance right over a day or even a week).
Following a healthy diet can help you to:
- maintain a healthy weight
- keep your energy levels up
- reduce your risk of health conditions such as stroke, diabetes and some types of cancer
- look after your heart health
- keep your bones and joints strong
- look after your mental wellbeing
- keep your immune system healthy
- may help you to sleep better
Making better choices with the Eatwell Guide
The video is presented by BNF nutrition scientists Dr Rosalind Miller and Dr Stacey Lockyer, with guest commentary from Professor Kevin Whelan and Dr Sarah Berry from Kings College London.
Eat well meal ideas and recipes
- Try the free NHS food scanner app - with a speedy scan of your family's favourite foods, you can find healthier swaps for next time you shop.
- Get into the habit of eating a morning meal with these simple breakfasts, designed to whet the appetite of even the most habitual breakfast-skipper, find healthy breakfast ideas and full recipes here.
- These eight practical tips cover the basics of healthy eating and can help you make healthier choices.
- With these surprising 100-calorie snacks you can enjoy some of the nation's favourite treats without derailing your diet.
The Royal College of Nursing have developed a Healthy workplace, healthy you campaign which can be applied to all health and social care staff.
They highlight the importance of staff taking at-work breaks, keeping hydrated and having access to nutritional food (Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel). Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs identifies these as being our basic human physiological needs:
If these needs are not being met at your workplace, you may find yourself becoming unwell, feeling burnt out, or wanting to leave your job. Fatigue and dehydration have also been shown to impact cognitive functioning, making errors more likely to occur.
- Readily accessible supply of drinking water and a supply of vessels/cups to use to drink the water
- Suitable and sufficient facilities, that there readily accessible to allow workers to rest and eat meals where their working environment could contaminate food
- Eating facilities that include a facility for preparing or obtaining a hot drink, such as an electric kettle, a vending machine or a canteen.
Working night shifts can disrupt meal times and your diet.
- Stick to similar times that you normally eat at during the day
- Frequently eating light meals or healthy snacks during your shift can avoid drowsiness
- Planning meals can help with levels of alertness during your shift, and be more relaxed when resting
- Eat foods that are easily digestable such as salad, fruit, and vegetables, and avoid fried, spicy, sugary, and processed foods (i.e., high calorie, high fat, high carbohydrate foods)
- Drink water regularly.
- Going food shopping can be difficult when on night shifts. Prepare for this in advance and take food with you to work
- Monitor your caffeine intake. Although a coffee or a cup of tea can help you keep alert during a shift, don't consume too much as it could disrupt your sleep when you get home (caffeine shouldn't be consumed 6 hours before sleep).
Where possible, aim to minimise eating between midnight and 6am.
The British Nutrition Foundation has developed the following guide to support those who work shifts:
Physical activity is a great way to keep you healthy as well as improving your mental wellbeing. Research shows that doing exercise releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins in the brain. Even a short burst of 10 minutes brisk walking can improve your mental alertness, energy and mood.
There are things you can do to give yourself the best chance of staying physically well, take a look at some free resources below:
NHS staff are now able to sign up to the NHS Digital Weight Management Programme. This is a brand new service for people who would like to lose weight and improve their health and wellbeing.
If you have a BMI of 30 or greater (or 27.5 or greater for staff from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups), you can now access a free, online 12-week weight management programme which is personally tailored to support your journey to a healthier lifestyle.
Keeping healthy and active can be hard, especially with the demands of a busy job, but this digital programme can help you make those small changes, one step at a time. Signing up is quick and easy – just visit this website for more information and to join today!
Created by the NHS for the NHS, #DoingOurBit is a free fitness platform offering a wide range of bespoke workouts gifted by carefully selected PTs and fitness instructors. The workouts are accessible, friendly and welcoming with plenty for beginners. Visit the website here.
Try Di’s restorative Pilates to relieve aching joints especially spine and shoulders.
Particularly good if your job involves a lot of sitting at a computer or bending. Equally good for men and women, Pilates provides all over postural and core toning for strength, balance and flexibility. This mixed ability session aims to suit everyone. Beginners welcome. Di is has been teaching remedial Pilates for many years.
When? Wednesdays at 6pm to 7pm
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 838 9891 3423
Bring a mat and a small cushion and check the safe exercise guidelines before starting the session. Queries to Di at firstname.lastname@example.org
NHS Get Fit for Free
Information and offers of free workouts including Couch to 5k, strength and flex exercise plans, and more, click here to access.
NHS Fitness Studio
These videos have been created by fitness experts and cover aerobics exercise, strength and resistance, pilates and yoga. Click here to visit NHS Fitness Studio.
The EXi app creates a 12-week exercise plan based on health information entered by the user. It then sets the duration and intensity of the exercise based on this information. This helps improve your overall health, but can also be used to manage a number of long-term health conditions.
The Active 10 app records every minute of walking you do (anonymously). Just pop your phone in your pocket and away you go! Did you know walking briskly, even for 1 minute, counts as exercise? What are you waiting for - take your first steps today!
Access to 700+ classes (including HIIT, strength training, combat cardio, yoga, pilates and breathwork) and over 20 personalised training plans. There are classes and plans for every fitness level and goal. The first three months is free for all NHS workers.
Be Military Fit
Be Military Fit (BMF) is for colleagues of all abilities – from those who have never exercised before, through to those who already enjoy regular exercise. The online platform also features a learning and development programme that aims to help you look after and improve your wellbeing, particularly through winter. Sign up using your NHS email address for free
Musculoskeletal conditions (MSKs) are chronic problems that affect the bones, joints, muscle and soft tissue.
According to the World Health Organisation, these conditions are one of the leading causes of disability, with 1.7 billion people affected worldwide. They can severely limit someone’s mobility and dexterity.
Without adequate prevention, treatment and reasonable adjustments, MSK may lead to lower levels of wellbeing and difficulties with managing everyday tasks.
There are three types of MSK conditions:
- Conditions of MSK pain, such as osteoarthritis and back pain
- Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Osteoporosis and fragility fractures, for example, a fracture after a fall
If you are experiencing back, joint or muscle pain, you should discuss this with a healthcare professional such as your doctor. The earlier a problem is reported, the easier it is to deal with.
A number of at-home treatments may be beneficial including staying active, relaxation techniques (such as these breathing exercises) or using hot and cold packs. You should speak to your doctor if you require medication.
Work from home exercises
Moving throughout the day can help reduce the risk of MSK conditions and reduce stress. You can find some details on handy desk based exercises from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy here.
The NHS also suggest that some exercises may be beneficial, such as this video on by the NHS on Pilates for chronic back pain:
MSK and the workplace
Initiatives such as Healthy Workplaces suggest that employees should have open and honest conversations with their employer about MSKs. This will help employers to take preventative action or make reasonable adjustments within the workplace.
Simple adjustments can include:
Finding alternative ways of doing tasks
Taking regular, short breaks
Flexible working hours or working from home
Adapting equipment e.g. sit-stand desk, using machinery to lift heavy objects
Taking time to move and stretch during the day.
UK Gov guidance on Musculoskeletal Health: All Our Health
This guide is part of ‘All Our Health’, a resource that helps health and care professionals prevent ill health and promote wellbeing as part of their everyday practice.
UK Gov productive healthy ageing and musculoskeletal (MSK) health
This resource for health professionals and local authorities makes the case for action to support healthy productive later life.
Mental Health and MSK health
Learn how some common mental health conditions and symptoms have an impact on musculoskeletal health.
NHS Toolkit: Managing Persistent Pain
The Pain Toolkit is a simple information booklet that could provide you with some handy tips and skills to support you along the way to manage your pain.