When a loved one faces health challenges (whether acute or chronic), family caregivers take on the unpaid responsibility of providing care and supporting them where needed. While there’s a lot of joy wrapped in caring for a loved one and fulfilling their needs, caregivers face a lot of challenges that often go unnoticed (even to themselves).
From the emotional toll of witnessing a loved one's struggle up close to the physical and mental strain of continuous care, family caregivers navigate a complicated situation each day. As such, it can be hard to prioritize the caregiver’s own health. It’s easy for it to feel secondary to their loved one’s more pressing needs. In this article, we’ll look at why focusing on your health as a caregiver matters, how you and the loved one(s) in your care can benefit from prioritizing exercise each day, and how to incorporate it into your routine. Let’s dive in.
Your Health Matters Too: Caring for Caregivers
Taking care of yourself as a family caregiver isn't the same thing as treating yourself (though trust us, you deserve both). A lot of caregivers mistakenly assume caring for themselves is a luxury for another time – easy to put off. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Your well-being is a big deal for both you and the person you're looking after.
When you focus on staying healthy, you're giving yourself the strength and mental power needed to handle the challenges that come with caregiving. A caregiver in good health can provide better care filled with attention, focus, and kindness.
By taking care of your own health, you're actually improving the care you can provide to your loved ones. It’s a win-win.
Assessing Your Current Activity Level
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) recommends using the Physical Activity Vital Sign (PAVS) calculation to determine if you meet the recommended amount of physical activity each day. It’s an easy calculation that will help you understand your activity level so you can make any needed adjustments.
To calculate your Physical Activity Vital Sign, you’ll need two numbers:
How many days per week do you engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity, (like a fast paced walk, stair climber, HIIT workout, or jog)?
How many minutes do you engage in that activity, on average, per session?
Once you have these two numbers, multiply them together. That will be your Physical Activity Vital Sign. In the end, you will have your number of minutes per week of vigorous intensity exercise.
How to use your Physical Activity Vital Sign (PAVS) number
Now let’s understand what that number means in context.
Your Physical Activity Vital Sign correlates to the physical activity guidelines for Americans. These guidelines recommend that adults engage in between 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, or 75 to 150 minutes a week for vigorous-intensity activity.
If your PAVS came out to 150 or above you meet the recommended guidelines. If not, you can easily get there by adding a bit more movement each day.
Fitting in Fitness: How to Stay Active and Increase Physical Activity
Caring for your loved ones doesn’t have to mean that you don’t have time to exercise. 150 minutes a week is just over 20 minutes a day – a number achievable with small lifestyle adjustments. There are activities you can do together that will contribute to healthier living for both of you over time.
Here are some ideas:
When running errands, take a further spot in the parking lot so you have to walk further distance to and from the store, adding a few minutes of exercise.
When you enter a building that has an elevator, try taking the stairs instead if possible.
Take leisure time like watching television and make it a little more active by stretching, cross-punching, sitting and standing a few times, making arm circles, etc. during commercial breaks.
After you have breakfast, lunch, or dinner, go for a quick walk around the neighborhood before the food settles.
Start your morning with a YouTube pilates workout, gentle yoga flow, or any physical activity your body can handle. There are thousands of exercise videos designed for various conditions. Find one (or several) you both enjoy and save the link.
As you continue your caregiving journey, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Caring for an aging or ailing loved one can be stressful, and it’s important to prioritize and put time into exercise when you can.
As a family caregiver in California, we invite you to check out our library of free resources. The California Caregiver Resource Center of Orange County is here to provide assistance and guidance. Together, we can navigate the healthcare landscape and help you provide the best possible care for your loved one(s) over time.
Further Reading: Understanding Dementia-Related Wandering
Understanding dementia-related wandering is essential for helping those living with a cognitive impairment to stay safe and get the best care. In this article, we’ll help you understand the causes, symptoms, behavior management tips, treatment options, and community care options to help you better care for a loved one showing signs of dementia-related wandering. Click here to read about it.