This is the do-it-yourself issue of OutreachNC, so here’s a do-it-yourself health quiz for caregivers. Simply put a check beside the statements that are true:
- More aches and pains than usual
- More headaches
- Tired a lot of the time
- Don’t have the strength for many daily activities
- Experience “cotton mouth” more often than in the past
- Colds and other simple ailments seem to linger
- Emotional moments seem deeper and more difficult to move through.
Simply put, all those experiences are reported by caregivers as outcomes of not being as healthy as they should be—and need to be. Caregivers and researchers are discovering that the time and energy expenditures needed to deal with caregiving duties and stresses are causing more health issues.
In short, most people are simply not in good enough physical condition to be caregivers. If you were experiencing some of the seven symptoms above before you became a caregiver, they are probably worse now. Yes?
I tell caregivers that if you know you have a caregiving experience in your future—and you know who you are—you need to think about the term “caregiver athlete.” Now, I could tell you that “caregiver athlete” is really a catchy sounding, benign, marketing term that does not mean I’m asking you do anything physically extraordinary.
The physical and emotional demands on caregivers can be extraordinary. Pushing a wheelchair full of Mama around a mall or walking around in the house with wandering Dad who has dementia is exhausting. All the time and energy it takes to keep two households in place is so much more than is normal for you, and all of this requires much more energy. The only way to get the extra energy is to train your body to create it.
However, so often, when I encounter information about how caregivers can stay healthy, here’s what I might as well be reading and hearing: Walk to Myrtle Beach, go to the gym and lift weights until your eyes pop out, do yoga until you can do that pose that makes you look like a pregnant giraffe on an icy pond, and swim the English Channel and bike in the Tour de Aberdeen (on the same day).
Let’s get serious, though. It is possible for some caregivers to find time to exercise. In fact, if you can simply get out and walk for only 20 minutes a day, the positive effects of aerobic movement, not to mention some fresh air and, possibly, interaction with friends and others, can be amazing.
For many folks, though, lack of time and a daunting schedule simply don’t make it possible. Many caregivers go see their loved one immediately after work, or their caregiving duties are their work, and they are with their loved one most of the day.
Can you get in a little better shape, be a little better able to handle the demands of caregiving and not fall into bed totally exhausted every night? Yes! Can you get an adequate-to-good workout and never leave your, or your loved one’s home, and not have the workout take hours? Absolutely! However, please consult your physician before beginning an exercise program.
You only need five simple “movements.” I’m not calling them “exercises,” because that sounds like work. Start with three to five repetitions for each movement. Do them slowly, and work up to 15 reps. You can do the five exercises as a workout, or do them one at a time, spread them over a half-hour or a whole day. Even a little is better than nothing. The key to not getting injured is to start easy and light, and do the repetitions slowly.
Here we go:
- Shoulder Shrugs: The shoulders are the weak link in picking anything up. Find something of moderate weight (3-5 pounds), hold one in each hand and, with your arms by your side and slightly bent, simply do the shoulder shrug.
- Stairs: The best, most natural workout apparatus is a flight of stairs. If walking up a flight of stairs makes you winded, you need these exercises more than you know. Start with walking halfway up, rest, then finish. If you don’t have stairs in your home, simply go outside to the steps that probably lead into your house. Start at the bottom and step up, then step down. Step up again with the same leg and repeat five times. If you have long legs, you may want to take the steps two at a time.
- Push-Away: Stand arms-length from a wall or closed door. Put your hands flat against the surface and lean forward. Slowly lower yourself until your nose, chin or forehead touches the surface, and then slowly push yourself away, back to arm’s length. This exercise works the chest, arms and front of your shoulders.
- Calf-Raise: Remember standing on tiptoes to look over a fence or someone’s shoulder at a concert? You weren’t actually on your toes, you were on the balls of your feet. Take your shoes off (and socks if you are going to be on wooden stairs) and stand on a stair step or thick books. Make sure the balls of your feet are solidly on the surface, and let the rest of each foot hang over the edge. Brace yourself with your hand on a wall or stair rail. Slowly, lower your heels until you feel the stretch in your foot. Then, slowly raise yourself as high as you can; hesitate, and then slowly lower yourself to the starting position. Start with very low reps, maybe three to five, and do the exercise very slowly. This is a challenging exercise. Take it slow, and expect some soreness.
- Pull-To: You need a back exercise to balance the Push-Away you did for the chest. This is another “be careful” exercise. Get a short length of rope or a sturdy belt, loop it over or around a sturdy, stationary object (railing, porch column, small tree), and then hold each end in a hand. Stand so you can lean back (don’t do this with only socks on or on a slick floor) and then pull yourself forward until you are standing straight up. (You’re smart; you’ll figure it out by feel.)
That’s it! If you do these five movements on a regular basis, you’ll start building a reservoir of strength and energy that allows you to meet the physical challenges of caregiving. Having physical strength and energy always helps deal with emotional challenges.
Finally, drink more water, eat a little better and get rest whenever you can.
Remember: “You take care of you!”
Collins is the producer of the video, “Care for the Caregiver,” winner of a National Caregiver Friendly Award from Today’s Caregiver Magazine. For more ways to deal with the craziness of caregiving, visit www.crazycaregiver.com.
©2017 Mike Collins