Exercise, fitness and musculoskeletal health of undergraduate nursing students: A cross-sectional study

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Journal of Advanced Nursing



PubMed ID





Centre for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Services Research / School of Nursing and Midwifery / School of Medical and Health Sciences




The Western Australian Nurses Memorial Charitable Trust (Grant number G1001611 SUB/52078)


Pugh, J. D., Cormack, K., Gelder, L., Williams, A. M., Twigg, D. E., & Blazevich, A. J. (2019). Exercise, fitness and musculoskeletal health of undergraduate nursing students: A cross‐sectional study. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 75 (10) 2110-2121. Available here


AIMS: To describe the exercise, physical fitness and musculoskeletal health of nursing students.

BACKGROUND: Nursing students are prone to musculoskeletal disorders restricting work ability. Physical fitness and leisure-time exercise may affect responses to workplace exposures and risk for work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

DESIGN: A cross-sectional study.

METHOD: Between August 2013 and April 2015, a convenience sample of 111 nursing students performed submaximal exercise tests. Nursing work, exercise and musculoskeletal health were surveyed and analysed descriptively.

RESULTS: Students' mean age was 30.0 years, 89.2% were female and 20.0% worked in nursing while studying. Highest annual prevalence of musculoskeletal trouble was in low back (45.6%), neck (32.0%) and shoulder (18.5%) regions. Most exercised regularly but did not meet weekly cardiorespiratory, resistance, neuromotor and flexibility exercise recommendations and had poor to average fitness levels. Approximately 40% were overweight or obese; 26.1% had risk for obesity-related disease.

CONCLUSIONS: Interventions to improve nursing students' physical condition before entering the nursing workforce appear warranted.

IMPACT: Imbalance between physical work capacity and demanding workloads increases musculoskeletal disorder risk amongst undergraduate nursing students. A large proportion studied reported recent musculoskeletal trouble (particularly low back, neck and shoulder). They exhibited modifiable characteristics of overweight/obese, poor fitness and inadequate leisure-time exercise, predisposing them to work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Undergraduate preparation should raise nursing students' health literacy about physical fitness and ways to achieve it, for their musculoskeletal health and work capacity. Improving nursing students' fitness may enhance their work preparedness and help them achieve longevity in this physically demanding occupation.



Access Rights

subscription content