Nurses Keep Hospital Patients Moving with Help from UW Researchers

By Chris Barncard, UW–Madison News

Laughter may get a lot of credit, but Barbara King makes walking sound like the best medicine.

“We know it maintains our health and well-being,” says King, a University of Wisconsin–Madison professor of nursing. “It maintains our ability to breathe, our bone structure, our muscle mass. We have all the data that says getting up and walking is good. But we still put people in bed and keep them in bed.”

In hospitals, that is. Studies have shown older patients in particular spend as much as 96 percent of their hospital stay confined to a bed, and as many as 65 percent of them who are able to walk on their own will lose that ability during a hospital stay.

King and Linsey Steege, a systems engineer in the UW–Madison School of Nursing, set out to get hospital patients on their feet and walking — movement that could drastically change the shape in which they leave the hospital. They found success in a 13-week pilot study with the help of nurses in a unit at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison.

“They were able to show significant changes in the number of patients that are getting out of bed, how often they’re getting up, and how far they’re walking,” Steege says “And they kept it up because everyone could feel the difference.”

The researchers published their program for mobilizing older adult patients via a nurse-driven intervention — or “MOVIN” — in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, and the UW Hospital nurses have presented their results at high-profile conferences.

It’s hard to explain why patients stay so still when moving is so beneficial.

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