How do you put the healthy back in healthcare?

With the holiday season in full swing, many of us are already bargaining with ourselves.

“I’ll start making better choices in January…”

At Cardinal Health we’re saying, “Why wait? Let’s put ourselves first and start getting healthy now.” That’s why we’re running a two-part series about putting the “healthy back in healthcare”. This month we asked some of our own to share personal tips about diet, sleep and exercise.

When you work in healthcare – people might assume you should know how to be healthy despite the long hours, multiple work demands, and many patients you may see. Regardless of whether you are a nurse or are a supply chain professional, it’s a challenge to stay in good health yourself, especially when you are often the go-to for your friends and family on healthy advice. Where do you start?


Diet is KEY. “All the things we know but take for granted,” said Sarah Conroy, RN, BSN.

“You literally are what you eat, so make sure you are eating fresh, healthy foods and steer clear of chemicals like artificial sugars, processed and/or high fatty foods, and limit inflammation triggering foods like sugar and dairy. Eat plenty of fruits and veggies, whole grains. Drink more water, less coffee and soda. “Do all things in moderation. You will feel better,” she said.

According to Nicole Steele, a former supply chain manager at a large IDN, and current director at Cardinal Health, “I look at being physically healthy as a 50/50 balance between what I eat and working out. When my schedule infringes on my ability to workout I make sure what I’m eating is on point. I also try to keep snacks in my desk so when the 3:00 p.m. cravings hit I have options,” she said, adding, “and I drink 60 ounces of water most every day. I’m sensitive to caffeine so I generally drink white or green tea and save the caffeine for once or twice a week.”

“Eat to live not live to eat,” suggests Debby Robin, M.D., MHCM. “Work related stress and travel can contribute to poor food choices. Think before you eat - do I really need this? Is there something else I can have that is healthier?”


Shift work sleep disorders are a documented on-the-job work hazard suffered by healthcare workers due to light exposure. Working outside a normal day shift can adversely influence your circadian rhythms of wanting to go to sleep when the sun goes down and rising with the morning sun.1

If you work a regular shift, it should be much easier, right? Just turn off your lights and turn in for the evening. Not necessarily.

According to Geoffrey J. Utley, RN WCC, “You shouldn’t use any of your electronic devices right before bedtime.” The research seems to agree. The light emitted from screens, including televisions, laptops, tablets, smart phones and even night lights can hinder getting a good night’s sleep.2

Blue based lights (technology screens of cell phones, tablets, laptops and the energy efficient LEDS), can inhibit the secretion of the sleep inducing hormone melatonin at night that’s released by the brain in response to light sensitivity in the eyes.3

What can you do?

  • Use dim red lights for night lights. Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin.4
  • Avoid looking at bright screens beginning two to three hours before bed.4
  • If you work a night shift or use a lot of electronic devices at night, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses or installing an app that filters the blue/green wavelength at night.4
  • Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day, which will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during daylight.4

“Not everyone needs the same hours of sleep, but find what works best for your body, and stick with it. Try to maintain the same cadence even on the weekend,” says Conroy. “Cut out the unnecessary, time-draining activities. We all need leisure, but if TV and your iPhone is cutting into your sleep schedule, time to make some changes,” she added.


How do you get more exercise in your routine when you are working long shifts and the last thing you want to do is to work-out?

“Get moving even if you have to start slow. Exercise increases energy, lowers anxiety and depression, and improves cardiovascular function, just to name a few,” says Conroy.

We’ve all heard of tactics like parking further away from your company’s entrance to walk a longer route, taking the stairs at work and using a wearable physical activity tracker to sneak in more exercise.

Did you know that even minutes a day can add up to something good for you?

In a 2015 study, subjects did small doses of physical activity or light-intensity exercise liked walking around on a coffee break. When it was done for at least two minutes for every hour of sitting, the subjects had a 33 percent lower mortality risk, according to researchers at the University of Utah, School of Medicine.4

More companies are offering wellness incentive programs and workout facilities for their employees use as well.

“I’m blessed to work for an employer that offers a gym on-site so I can take advantage of incorporating exercise into my normal work day,” said Jessica Sverha, RN BSN.

“Try challenging yourself and stay committed – if you are just getting into exercise, understand it might take months for exercise to feel any easier, said Sverha. “There’s only one way to get up any mountain – starting with the first step.”

1 Vetter, C., et al. Association Between Rotating Night Shift Work and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Among Women. JAMA 315: 1726-34; 2016.

2 Blue light has a dark side. Harvard Health Letter; September 2, 2015. Available at:

3 Holzman, D.C. What’s in a Color? The Unique Human Health Effects of Blue Light. Environ Health Perspect 118: A22-A27; 2010.

4 Beddhu, S., et al. Light-intensity physical activities and mortality in the United States general population and CKD subpopulation. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol 10: 1145-53; 2015.

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