Yes, You Can Be a Caregiver and Exercise Too!

I learned a valuable lesson last week when my husband and I spent time in Florida visiting my parents.

I learned that engaging in regular exercise can be a delight instead of a chore. One key is to relax your idea of how exercise should occur. Another key is to make it fun so it doesn’t seem like work.

My husband and I walked along the ocean with my dad every morning. And this wasn’t just any short jaunt – we walked five miles per outing! But the time flew by because of the great conversation and the fabulous views. By the time we got home, we felt refreshed and relaxed.

Dad has been active his whole life. From basketball to running to his current daily walks, he’s always made exercise a priority, no matter how busy his life has been. And if he becomes a caregiver someday, I have no doubt he’ll find a way to keep on walking, because he knows he needs that activity to keep him healthy and balanced.

This got me thinking about caregivers and exercise. With time and energy running short, I know that exercise feels like the last thing you can do right now. But perhaps with some inspiration from my dad and a few tips from Holly and Dan Hedman, healthy lifestyle consultants and owners of D & H Hedman, you will be able to incorporate more activity into your busy day.

Courtesy of NIH
Photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health

Do What You Love

How does my dad do it? For starters, he’s always stuck with activities he enjoys. Why force yourself to exercise in a way that intimidates you or feels like a chore? Whether it’s walking, swimming, bicycling, or dancing in the privacy of your living room, do what you enjoy. Life is too short to do otherwise.

Thirty Minutes a Day, a Little at a Time

The Hedmans suggest that 30 minutes of exercise a day is optimal, and this can include a combination of aerobic, strength, and stretching exercises. In other words, you don’t have to knock yourself out at an extreme exercise boot camp every day to benefit from regular activity. For example, the Hedmans offer the following possible formula:

  • 15 minutes of brisk walking (could be done while the person you are caring for is napping)
  • 5 minutes of strength exercises (could be completed while talking on the phone or waiting for food to heat in the microwave)
  • 10 minutes of stretching (could be divided into 5 minutes first thing in the morning and 5 minutes right before bed, because stretching is a great way to ease into the day and to promote relaxing sleep)

If you're a calisthenics buff or enjoy structured exercise routines, you might want to try a 5-10 minute workout right before your shower that includes targeted moves such as:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Push-ups
  • Crunches (sit-ups)
  • Lunges
  • Any other moves that you find beneficial and that you enjoy

Pay Attention to Your Core

As a caregiver, you may be doing a lot of heavy lifting which can put serious strain on your back. To avoid injury, focus on your core (torso) muscles when walking, doing strength moves, or stretching. This means keeping your abdominal muscles tight while walking and gently extending them – as well as your back muscles – when stretching.

Regarding strength exercises, the Hedmans offer a move called the Super-Man. I thought this was particularly appropriate considering that caregivers are Super-Men and Women:

  • Lie on your stomach with your legs stretched out behind you and your arms straight out above your head.
  • Keep your face towards the floor.
  • Lift your arms and legs off the floor and hold for 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Slowly lower arms and legs back to the floor.
  • Repeat 4 times. Over time, slowly increase the amount of time your arms and legs are off the floor and the number of repetitions as you feel able.

Please know that I’m not trying to sugar coat the issue of exercise. It’s not easy, even for non-caregivers. I’ve tried to exercise regularly throughout my life, but my success has certainly varied throughout the years.

The proverbial hump always seems to be translating intention into action. Hopefully these tips will help caregivers accomplish that translation in such a way that exercise becomes an enjoyable and manageable part of the daily routine.

I would love to hear how you have worked exercise into your busy caregiving life. What has worked for you? By sharing your tips, you could help other caregivers become healthier too.

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