Caregiver health is a topic dear to my heart so when Joe from Vive Health offered to share this post with me, I was delighted.
As the air stewards say “Fit your oxygen mask, before you fit someone elses”. Look after yourself so you can care for someone else.
Health and Fitness Tips for Family Caregivers
If you are a woman in your 40s, 50s, or 60s, chances are high that you are either a caregiver to a loved one in need or you know someone who is. Over 6 million people in the U.K. currently perform some type of caregiving duties or tasks for a family member, with the average caregiver being a female between 50 and 64 years old according to CarersUK.
Caregiving duties may range from helping an aging parent get to doctor’s appointments and refill prescriptions, to more skilled nursing care for a child with special needs. Any way you cut it, caregivers often times find themselves putting their own needs and health last, while their loved one they care for, their kids, marriage, and work all come first.
If you are a caregiver, don’t miss these health and fitness tips to help you stay in tip top condition:
Finding Time to Exercise
Uncovering hidden pockets of time to work out or go to the doctor can be tough for caregivers, especially when your regular presence at home with a loved one is required. Experts recommend ditching the idea of finding an entire uninterrupted hour in the day to get some exercise, and instead find small 15 minute increments to stay active.
It might be a quick 15-minute brisk walk in the morning before your loved one and kids wake up. Or maybe it’s a 15-minute bike ride in the afternoon while your loved one is sleeping or the home health aide is visiting. What about live streaming a free instructional Zumba or yoga video in your living room for 15 minutes to break a sweat? Even the smallest steps can add up to a big difference in your health.
Be Careful About Your Back
A common affliction for not just caregivers but many in the care industry, especially nurses, back pain and back injury can be your undoing. A combination of awkward postures, heavy lifting, and stress can lead to painful muscle strain and inflammation. While OSHA recommends no person lifts more than 40 or 50 lbs without assistance on the job, many caregivers often find themselves helping to lift entire adult human beings into and out of wheelchairs, into and out of bed, onto and off of the toilet, and so on.
While avoiding using your back is simply out of the question for many caregivers, there are important steps you can take to preventing muscle strain and tension. Patient transfer devices like these can make a huge difference in supporting your lower back and spine and making it safer to move your loved one. Reinforcing core and back muscles with exercise and stretching can also strengthen your movements and help you avoid injury.
Don’t Forget About Emotional Health
Caregiving duties carry their own share of stressors and emotional volatility – whether it’s dealing with an aging parent developing dementia or wrangling with frustrating health insurance companies about coverage and bills. Emotional health and wellness must be a key priority for caregivers.
Stress relief may come in the form of basic self-care tactics like prioritizing healthy eating and regular exercise, to more pampering-type things like taking warm baths, getting a massage, or using aromatherapy. Caregivers can combine emotional and physical exercise with mindfulness-cultivating practices like yoga and tai chi. Deep breathing, gentle stretching, strengthening poses, and mindful meditation can go a long way to helping caregivers de-stress and find peace.
Be Smart About You Are Eating
Caregivers often find themselves so busy taking care of their loved one (or their spouse, kids, work, etc) that the afternoon rolls around and all they’ve had to eat is half a bag of chips and three cups of coffee. Sound like you? Health is just as much what you put into your body as how much you workout.
Eating well doesn’t have to mean spending an hour cooking a gourmet lunch. Instead, stock your fridge and pantry with healthy, fast items that are good for you and make great meals. On the weekend, go ahead and pre-roast vegetables, cook ahead whole grains like brown rice and quinoa and chop up veggies. When it comes to weekday eating you’ll have a ton of great tasting staples on hand for quickly assembling salads, sandwiches, wraps, omelettes, tacos, you name it!
Find Ways to Stay Fit at Home
So hitting the gym is out of the question and you can’t even think about finding time to go to a SoulCycle or yoga class. Don’t fret! Staying fit at home simply requires a little creativity and dedication. Do you work from home or spend time sitting taking care of your loved one (feeding them, etc)? Ditch the chair and get a stability ball to sit on instead. Not only does it help you practice better posture, but the bouncing and constant balance-corrections help engage and work out key muscle groups.
Stream motivating instructional fitness and yoga videos, use apps like 7-minute Workout to get guidance about quick in-home high-intensity exercises you can do, or find a game system like Wii where you can play short spurts of fitness-inspired video games.
As a caregiver, the health of your care largely depends on your own wellness and how you take care of yourself. With small, creative actions like practicing regular self-care and finding short workouts to complete, you can not only feel healthier but potentially get more out of your caregiving role as well.