One of the things that you don’t think of when you’re in the middle of caregiving is the amount of additional stress that you add. But it slowly creeps up on you and can really have an adverse effect on your physical, mental and emotional health.
For instance, Womenshealth.gov reports that caregiver stress seems to have more impact on women than men since women represented approximately 75 percent of caregivers who said they felt a lot of strain emotionally, physically and financially. The stress can lead to very serious health problems for the caregiver, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, higher levels of stress hormones, weakened immunity, slower healing of wounds, obesity, and increased mental decline. “One research study found that elderly people who felt stressed while taking care of their disabled spouses were 63 percent more likely to die within four hours than caregivers who were not feeling stressed,” the group’s website reports. Increased stress can show up in many ways, such as changes in sleep patterns, changes in weight, continual exhaustion, sadness, worry, and feeling overwhelmed.
One of the best ways to lower your stress level is through regular exercise. However, I know that as a caregiver, many people have a really hard time going to the gym on a regular basis. That’s why I want to offer you three ideas of how you can sneak in exercise during your day.
- Walk the dogs. If your home is like mine, you see such looks of joy from your canine friends when you start putting on tennis shoes or going to the closet that holds the leash. And their joy in going for a jaunt benefits you as well. Time.com described a study that found that dog owners were 34% more likely to get the necessary exercise than people who don’t own dogs. Of dog owners who took their pets for regular walks (which lasted at least 10 minutes), 60 percent reached the minimum federal requirements for moderate or vigorous exercise. Nearly half of the study participants who walked dogs exercised for 30 minutes a day for five days a week (or more).
- Incorporate exercise into your daily chores. Squeezeitin.com offers a range of exercises that you can do while at home or in the office. The website recommends that you start with two sets of 12 repetitions, and then increasing the number of sets when you find that your starting amount becomes too easy. And there are a variety of exercises like” Va-va-va Vacuum,” which you can do as follows: While doing this exercise, keep your abs squeezed in tight and continue to breathe. From a standing position extend vacuum out in front. Start on your right side and lunge your leg out in front of you. Make sure your front knee does not go past your toes while lunging. The knee of the back leg should go straight down toward the floor, but not touch the floor. Return to a standing position, switch legs, and repeat. Continue for 2 sets of 12 – or until carpets are clean!” After you finish that, you can always try “Let’s Dish Lunges,” “Towel Time,” Laundry Legs,” and “Potty Hottie.”
- Gardening. It’s amazing how many calories you can burn when working in the yard. For instance, a 160-pound person who spends two hours raking leaves can burn more than 650 calories, according to the Walk Across Texas calculator that determines miles and calories burned. And a person who weighs 140 pounds and who mows the lawn for 60 minutes burns 369 calories. And a 120-pound person can burn 433 calories over a 90-minute period through digging, spading, and composting a garden.
I hope these fitness ideas expand your concept of exercise and are ones that you, as a caregiver, can embrace. Making this physical effort part of your daily routine can help you deal with the daily stress of caregiving, but also protect your long-term health from being ravaged by stress.