Exercise for caregivers
Sometimes it’s easier for caregivers to put their own health on the back burner while they’re providing care for someone else. Yet it’s incredibly important to put time and effort into taking care of yourself—so you can keep doing the important work of caregiving and avoid getting burned out.
Neglecting your own health can lead to stress, depression and illness, and one of the best ways to improve your health is by adding exercise to your daily routine. Even small increases in activity boost your self-esteem, reduce your risks for getting a chronic disease and decrease your stress levels.
Why exercise to relieve stress?
While you should check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program, you don’t have to do a strenuous workout to feel stress relief. Any form of physical activity improves your mood and relaxes your mind, whether you’re walking, swimming, skiing or doing yoga or Pilates.
Here are some other reasons to add more exercise to your daily life:
- Regular physical activity helps you avoid or control chronic health issues like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
- Exercise releases endorphins—hormones that improve mood, boost energy and promote better sleep.
- Repetitive motions can be a form of meditation, even with a simple exercise like walking. Focus on your movements and your breathing. Notice nature around you. Let go of daily stresses. Practice living in the moment, or being mindful.
- Following a regular exercise program helps you manage your weight. Physical activity and strength training elevate your metabolism. Managing your weight relieves stresses associated with weight gain, such as fatigue and health problems.
- A strong body helps to create a strong mind. Incorporate muscle conditioning and flexibility exercises into your workouts or daily routines. Strength training challenges your body, which increases self-esteem.
No time for exercise?
As a caregiver, you may have very limited time—or no time at all—for yourself. If that’s the case, ask others for help, so you can spend a specific block of time alone and use some or all of it for physical activity.
Or you can break up your activity time. You may not have time for a 30–45 minute session, but three 10-minute activity breaks are just as effective for relieving stress.
Choose an activity you enjoy, so you’ll look forward to it and feel more motivated to fit it in consistently. With time, your activity breaks and scheduled exercise sessions will become a natural part of your daily routine and an important way to decrease your stress.
- Make a commitment to yourself by setting S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and timely. Schedule activity time as you would any other commitment.
- Be mindful of ways you can increase your activity levels doing everyday tasks. Go for a walk during lunch. Take the stairs. Park farther away from store entrances when you’re out shopping.
- Make it easy for yourself by being prepared. Keep exercise bands and small weights handy at work or when traveling. Always keep exercise clothes/shoes readily available. Keep a gym bag in the car or your sneakers by the door or under your desk at work.
- Exercise with a friend. This will give you time to catch up, enjoy your friend’s company and maybe talk about the aspects of caregiving that cause stress for you.
- Change your routine. Just as your body gets used to the same activity, your mind gets bored, too. Find new routes, try different classes or move to a different room. Simply changing the scenery, activity type or exercise intensity promotes both physical and mental benefits.
Add exercise without adding costs
For many caregivers, finding time isn’t the only barrier to exercising. Joining a health club or taking Pilates, yoga, kickboxing or other fitness classes can be expensive.
You can still build some physical activity into your life without spending extra money. Here are some easy—and inexpensive—ways to add small amounts of exercise into your day.
Walk. Whether you go around the block, through a park, or up a mountain, walking is one of the best exercises for you. If you have access to a treadmill, that can be a great option, too.
Walking can help you:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid or manage conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes
- Strengthen your bones and muscles
- Improve your mood
- Improve your balance and coordination
Stretching. You can improve flexibility and range of motion in your joints by stretching regularly. Better flexibility may:
- Improve your performance in physical activities
- Decrease your risk of injuries
- Help your joints move through their full range of motion
- Enable your muscles to work most effectively
- Increase blood flow to the muscles
You may learn to enjoy the ritual of stretching before or after hitting the trail, dance floor or soccer field. To avoid injury, warm up a little before stretching, or wait until after a workout.
Experiment to find what works for you
Try any or all of these approaches to bringing more movement into your life. Even getting your heart pumping for a few minutes at a time will be a help. You’ll be happier, healthier and better able to provide the attention and care your loved one needs.