10 ways to incorporate mood-boosting exercise into LTC

Dr. Eleanor Barbera
Dr. Eleanor Barbera

Cold weather. An uncertain world. Rogue shrinks making the rest of us caring, diligent professionals look bad. I don't know about you, but I need a mood lifter.

I came across an article that suggests that exercise of all kinds, even small movements, can make us feel less depressed. In “Get up and move. It may make you happier,” New York Times health writer Gretchen Reynolds notes that people in a University at Cambridge study “turned out to feel happier when they had been moving in the past quarter-hour than when they had been sitting or lying down, even though most of the time they were not engaged in rigorous activity.”

How can we incorporate more movement into our days across the spectrum of long-term care?

Personally, I purposely forego my car so I can walk to and from the subway and I take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible. I encounter surprisingly few coworkers doing the same, so perhaps that can be number one on this list of get-moving ideas:

1.  Take the stairs.

2.  Use public transportation. Sign up for or offer workers a transit tax exemption if a program, such as TransitChek in New York City, is available in your area.

3.  Kill two birds with one stone by walking around the facility on rounds and checking in with staff members and residents.

4.  Join or begin a lunchtime walking program. Find a buddy to add fun and accountability.

5.  Hold strolling meetings when possible. In addition to getting exercise, this can also enhance creative thinking.

6.  Take or create stretch classes before and after change of shift to reduce workplace injuries and act as a team-building, staff-retaining benefit.

7.  Review the resident activities calendar to be sure there's at least one daily movement-related activity such as balloon volleyball, morning stretch or chair yoga available to residents. 

8.  Encourage nursing staff to build movement activities for residents (and themselves) into the day, such as five minutes of shoulder rolls and arm lifts before bringing residents into the dining room.

9.  Ensure that floor ambulation programs are being carried out as ordered. I know from past experience that when staff members are busy, this tends to fall by the wayside, leading to resident distress. The best way I've seen this handled is to assign a trained aide to handle the task throughout the facility rather than relying on each aide to walk with their residents.

10.  Participate in an organization-wide fitness program. If you're in the position to launch one, this Harvard Business Review article, “How to design a corporate wellness plan that actually works,” has helpful evidence-based tips to point you in the right direction.

I walked an average of three and a half miles a day last year with my subway/stairs plan and I intend to keep it up. This year I'm (imperfectly) adding in a new spirit-lifting aspiration: daily meditation.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., author of The Savvy Resident's Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is a Gold Medal blogger in the American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with more than 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.

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