If you’re a nurse, you may not be aging well. According to the ANA’s Healthy NurseSurvey, 82% of nurses believe they are at risk for workplace stress. Stress at work can reduce your quality of life and lead to significant health problems — two significant hurdles in the path to fit and active golden years.

September is Healthy Aging Month, so now is a great time to step back and assess your health.

Are you aging gracefully? If not, here are a few ways to combat nursing-related health problems.

The Effect of Nursing on Health

Survey after survey reveals the toxic effects of stress on nurses. Exhausted nurses turn to junk food and caffeine to survive instead of rest, exercises, and proper nutrition.

For example, in a study of 120 nurses published in Nursing Research and Practice, 63% used junk food as a coping mechanism for stress at work, and 70% ate more junk food as the result of workplace stress.

Also, 78% of the nurses surveyed in that study reported sleeping less than eight hours a night. More than two-thirds lacked a regular exercise routine, and almost 70% ate fewer than five fruits and vegetables a day, while nearly one-quarter reported binge drinking behavior.

This study raises a lot of red flags about the ability of nurses to age well.

Nursing demands a lot, and the stress it places on the body takes a severe toll. Researchers from UC San Francisco found that women experiencing chronic stress have lower levels of the klotho hormone, which regulates aging.

So, it’s not just disease we’re talking about when we talk about the effects of stress, but it’s also the actual length of our lives. We don’t want to work ourselves into an early grave.

The bottom line?If you’re a nurse and you want to enjoy your golden years, you need to start taking care of yourself now. The extent of your ability to enjoy playing in the yard with your grandkids and hiking with your spouse in retirement is determined by what you do in your 20s, 30s, and 40s.

So, here are a few ways to combat the effects of a stressful profession.

How to Age Gracefully as a Nurse

Prioritize rest. Make getting at least six or seven hours of sleep per night, ideally eight, non-negotiable.

Take advantage of workplace health programs. Many hospitals will offer yoga and meditation classes for employees. Going to at least one class per week can significantly reduce stress.

Snack more. It’s usually unrealistic to expect a regular lunch break as a nurse. So, plan for this and pack several healthy snacks that you can eat on the go. Keep them in your scrub pockets. Small bags of trail mix, cut-up vegetables, and fruits are easy to eat while charting.

Switch to decaf. Going cold turkey with caffeine can be difficult. Try swapping regular coffee for decaf four ounces at a time until you reduce your caffeine intake.

Strength train. As a nurse, you’re already on your feet all day, which means you’re getting cardio at work. So, focus on strength training outside of work. Two 30-minute full-body sessions per week are enough to facilitate healthy aging. Plus, strengthening your muscles will reduce aches and pains.

Healthy Aging as a Nurse is about Perspective, Boundaries, and Confidence

The extent to which you take care of yourself comes down to how well you make yourself a priority. For many nurses, the long hours, high stress, and compassion fatigue aren’t things they can change.

But healthy aging requires us to set boundaries to protect our health. Whatever they are, set them. Defend your golden years and sail into that sunset like the superstar you are!