The Perfect Gift for a Caregiver: A Gym Membership

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I gave myself a very important present this week. Let me tell you that I don’t often do such things. I tend to be like many others – I worry about everyone else’s needs, whether I’m in the caregiver or employee role. My wants and needs tend to come after everyone else is taken care of – which often means that my needs are never met. That’s the example that my mom provided for me, but that’s not how I’m choosing to live my life now that I have seen what my future may hold since Alzheimer’s and dementia tend to run on Mom’s side of the family.

    Don’t get me wrong….I haven’t turned into a hedonist all of a sudden. But I can tell you that during the last year, I feel like I’ve aged tremendously due to multiple stressors (including my mom’s situation). And I’ve realized through advice from numerous formal and informal advisors that if I don’t take care of myself, I’ll mess with my own health and won’t be of any use to anyone (much less to myself).
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    So what was my present to myself, you ask? A gym membership. Before you say, “What was she thinking? She should have gone for the shopping trip to the local mall,” let me explain why. First of all, exercise tends to relieve stress. I have been bicycling twice a week with my friend, Sondra, for several months and I can tell a difference in my energy level. But I also can tell you that the main area where I place stress – the muscles around my shoulder blade – have continued to get tighter and tighter. Bicycling does a lot for my spirit, my legs, and my heart, but it isn’t totally relieving all the stress that goes with trying to handle caregiving, earn a living, work on a doctorate, and do household chores.

    Also, recent research indicates that exercise may be a factor in preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia. With a family history of this awful disease, I need to start being serious about my own physical health and how to prevent or delay these health issues. I have been athletic throughout my life and know that cross-training not only benefits my muscles, but also my mind.

    So I decided to supplement these two days of biking with a cross-training approach. On the days I am not cycling, I plan to attend classes at the gym that are based on yoga/Pilates/Tai Chi or weight-lifting. My previous experience with yoga has shown me that it encourages flexibility not only of my body, but also of my emotions and mental outlook. Weight-lifting will provide the workout that will help me focus and also strengthen the muscles in my shoulder that tends to lock up. Plus, I will have to concentrate my brain to learn these various routines – and exercising this important organ is important when you fear that you have a genetic disposition to dementia.

    Being a caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s means that you have additional responsibilities. However, it doesn’t mean that you quit caring for yourself. Taking a few critical steps to help yourself deal with stress will help not only you, but your loved one. That improves the quality of life for everyone.

  • Tell us how you relieve the stress of caregiving in the message boards.
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Published On: July 06, 2006