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Self-care for the Caregiver: Fitness

It’s an understatement to say that caregivers have a lot on their plates: assisting with personal care, transportation to doctor’s appointments, food preparation, medication management…the list goes on. And here’s the irony: caregivers need care too! We know it can be difficult to find the time for self-care, but it’s important to remember that your own wellness is still a priority. We also know caregivers may be too burned out to think of exactly what they need for themselves, so I would love the opportunity to provide some suggestions here. This is the first of a three-part series: Self-care for the Caregiver, which will include fitness, nutrition and mindset installments. Let’s start with the basics. Why is fitness important for the caregiver?  

The importance of exercise for you, the caregiver: You might have started reading this and thought “exercise is just not for me right now”. I am here to tell you it is. No one is too out-of-shape, too tired, or too busy to reap the benefits of a regular exercise program. If done right, exercise can help reduce stress, increase energy, and make you a better caregiver. Let’s start with the benefits: Lose weight! Feel good! Sleep better! Prevent osteoporosis! Prevent heart disease! Reduce stress! And guess what? They’re all true. Even with all of these benefits, I understand that barriers come up. In my many years of training I have heard everything: “I’ve never exercised before,” “My knees and feet hurt too much,” or “I don’t have time”. Do yourself a favor, in as little as ten minutes a day, and as few as three days a week. The right exercise program will help you feel better, sleep better, reduce stress, and enjoy life more. 

Some General Guidelines When You Exercise

  • Schedule it. Set aside a specific time every day for exercise. Put it on your calendar as an appointment, just like you would for your patient or loved one.
  • Be consistent. To get benefits from any exercise program, do it regularly. This also helps create a positive habit.
  • Warm up and cool down: stretch both before and after you exercise.
  • Start with as little as 10 minutes of exercise a day and increase gradually to 30 minutes for maximum benefits.
  • Use the talk/sing test. To find out if you’re exercising hard enough or not enough, use this simple check. If you can’t talk and exercise at the same time, you may be working too hard. If you can sing and exercise, you’re probably not working hard enough.
  • Always ease into an activity for the first five minutes, and slow down the pace for the last five minutes instead of stopping suddenly.

Exercise Ideas

  • Take a daily walk, jog or run. Find a friend to walk with. You will encourage each other to stay committed when you’re tempted to take a day off. This is also a great chance to chat with someone, whether it’s to vent or just to talk about the latest fashion trends. 
  • Check out exercise classes offered through community centers, gyms and senior centers. Think about what you would enjoy the most, not what others think you should do. Most gyms and studios offer a variety of classes, from yoga to bootcamp and many other non-traditional exercise programs. They are a great way to improve flexibility, muscle tone, and can help you relax. During the coronavirus pandemic most fitness studios and gyms are closed – but many are offering outdoor, socially distanced classes.
  • Swim! Swimming is low impact and a great cardiovascular workout. Call your community swimming pools to ask about adult swim times or water exercise classes. Many pools offer classes just for seniors or others who want a less competitive pace.
  • Try an exercise video. Since the onset of the pandemic, many at-home fitness videos have become available. You can also consider a Cancer Champions membership, which includes all of our fitness videos and programming, including Pilates, yoga, and more.

A note of caution: Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Jennifer Miramontes is the founder of Cancer Champions, an online fitness and nutrition program for cancer fighters and survivors. She is a Certified Personal Trainer, Medical Exercise Specialist and Cancer Exercise Specialist. She has worked in the fitness industry for more than 30 years.