EXERCISING WHEN YOU'RE CARING FOR SOMEONE ELSE
You have most likely heard from friends and family that you need to take care of yourself…especially if you are caring for someone else. You might hear the argument, “If YOU get sick, who will take care of your loved one?”
But as a caregiver, you may have little time to yourself. Of all the things you might like or want to do in your “spare time,” exercise might be the last activity on your list. Yet out of all the activities you could do, exercise may be the most rewarding and beneficial. Exercise may help prevent you from getting sick, can help you sleep better, and is almost sure to help you feel more energized. Three things a caregiver might find very useful indeed!
Taking Breaks Helps You and Your Loved One
Wendy Lustbader, M.S.W, a national lecturer and the co-author of Taking Care of Aging Family Members: A Practical Guide, says, “It is more important for the caregiver to get rest as the life and well being of their loved one will be affected. It is better to get a break if you can as you’re taking care of two lives.”
Exercise gives you that much-needed break from your caregiving duties, helps you stay in good shape so you can perform at your best, and helps you avoid costly downtime by giving your body a better chance to fight off illness. Lustbader goes on to say, “There is some interesting research indicating caregivers are more vulnerable to illness and can get sicker if they don’t take care of themselves.”
Getting Started: Walks, Videos, and More
Going to the health club at your office or a nearby gym might help you feel more independent in your life and give you a sense of freedom. However, packing appropriate clothes, traveling to and from the gym, and arranging for care for your loved one while you are at the gym might not be realistic.
If you are not able to fit the gym into your schedule, you can keep exercise as simple as a brisk walk around the block. Lustbader agrees; “I recommend not thinking big. Just take a walk. [Caregivers] are often overwhelmed from a busy workday so just walking as exercise may be the most they can do. It’s a great release and way to be alone, recharge, meditate, and collect oneself.”
Another option is to use exercise videos at home. Your loved one may be able to sit on the couch and watch you work out, or you can try to schedule your video during nap time or when your loved one is occupied. You can always stop or pause a video at any time if your loved one needs your immediate attention.
How Often, and How Much Exercise?
Exercise recommendations for someone caring for a loved one are no different than for anyone else. Your goal is 30 to 40 minutes of moderately intense exercise three or more times a week.
Ideally, you’ll want to exercise continuously for 30 minutes or more (some research says this gives you the maximum benefits). However, as you well know, taking that much time off may be challenging unless you have help.
It is OK to get your exercise “here and there” throughout the day. Anything is better than nothing. Research shows that even little bursts of exercise are beneficial. Park the car further away from the grocery store to get some extra walking in, or take the stairs instead of the elevator. Build up to more time as you begin to see and feel the benefits of exercise.
Exercise Goals: Reduce Stress and More
Your exercise goals may include losing weight or toning your body parts. Your goals as a caregiver may be to release stress and regain energy, stamina and strength. When you take a walk you should walk briskly to get your heart rate elevated. You should feel that you exerted yourself a bit. Try to work up a sweat, as that is one way to tell that you are getting a good workout. Another way to make sure you are exercising at a pace that is beneficial: your breathing should become shorter, but you should be able to hold a conversation. If you can’t have a conversation (even with yourself), slow down. Be sure to check with a health professional before beginning any exercise program.
Tips to Get Moving
Pick a destination and time yourself to get there. Change the destination and path frequently to prevent boredom and challenge the body. Wear loose, breathable clothing and supportive shoes.
Write down your goals and stick to them. When you track your progress, exercise becomes a fun and interesting challenge.
On days when a walk or visit to the fitness club cannot be arranged, try to make time for strength training. Caregivers responsible for lifting loved one’s in and out of bed or chairs require a strong core. Your core describes the area around your trunk and pelvis and is where your center of gravity is located.
Ultimately, the returns for the time spent on exercise breaks are sure to be rewarding and will help ensure that you are able to meet the hurdles of a long day or week (or year). As a caregiver, these breaks will help you to feel better about yourself and in turn allow you to return to the matter of caring for your loved one with a renewed energy. You will get something back from everything you put in, and putting even a little bit in goes a long way. As Lustbader says, “Exercise can add to resting the spirit.”