The Importance of Fitness for Caregivers

Many of us currently have or soon will have the opportunity to provide physical, financial, or emotional support to another being. Whether informally as a parent or family member, or professionally as a medical provider, babysitter, or assistant, the role of a caregiver is one of great responsibility. It can also be extremely demanding, affecting all aspects of the caregiver's well-being: physical, mental, social, emotional, financial, etc. Let's spend a few minutes discussing how improving physical fitness can benefit a caregiver.

Balancing the pressures of family and life commitments with the duties of caring for others can be difficult. It's particularly hard for those who spend an 8-12 hour work day on their feet caring for patients, then go home to fulfill parenting responsibilities. Or for anyone who cares for a family member with extraordinary needs around the clock. Setting aside some time for exercise each day can actually enhance your ability to provide for the needs of others. The endorphins released when you exert yourself are mood lifters and can help keep depression and anxiety at bay. Regular activity keeps you physically fit and able to handle the physical rigors of giving care. Plus, keeping yourself fit improves your overall health and ensures that you don't become the one in need of care.Marianne_weight

Cal Fit member Marianne M. is a mom and registered nurse. As a nurse providing care in a burn intensive care unit, Marianne is on her feet for the bulk of her 12 hour shifts. "Staying in shape is really important for my job," she notes, "But when I had my kids, I felt like I just completely stopped working out." Eventually, Marianne realized that she needed to spend some time caring for herself so that she could better care for others. "Cal Fit was really the first place I was able to let go and start caring for myself, and start doing something for myself."Marianne_kidlift

The American Heart Association recommends that adults aim for 30 minutes of physical activity per day, five days per week. For caregivers, that number may sound impossible to achieve. The good news: you can break it down into small bits throughout the day and any amount of activity will benefit you. Every little bit helps--just 5-10 minutes of activity is better than none. Here are some options for fitting in activity on days when you just can't make it into the gym.

  • Increase the intensity of basic daily activities. For example, skip the elevator and take the stairs, take the steps two at a time, park further from the entrance to buildings, do squats or lift free weights while you watch the evening news.
  • Use fitness aids. Wear a step tracker to encourage movement, or keep a lightweight resistance band in your pocket desk drawer and do bicep curls or tricep extensions during down times or while on hold on the phone.
  • Stop and stretch. Stretching your body can decrease your risk of injury and increase blood flow to your muscles. If you can, set a reminder on your phone every hour and stretch. If you can't stretch throughout the day, try stretching with a foam roller first thing in the morning or right before bed.
  • Build your muscles. Weight bearing exercises help you maintain a healthy weight and burn calories. Can't make it to the gym? Use your body weight to flex those muscles! Do calf raises while you brush your teeth or wash dishes, or squats as you fold laundry.

"Seeing the fragility of life really does motivate me to stay healthy and to take care of myself--and to focus on what matters in the the time that I do have," Marianne told us. Learn more about how regular workouts have benefited her professionally and personally by watching this video clip.