Exercise as self-care

Let’s face it, not all of us are cut out to get up at daybreak and run 5 miles.  Honestly, I can’t think of any time of day I’d like to run 5 miles.  But, I’m related to people who find incredible joy out of running; I’m just missing that bit of genetic code.

However, it is still vitally important for everyone to engage in some sort of exercise.  People have different motivators for exercise – staying healthy, looking good, fitting into that pair of jeans that taunts them from the closet, the list is nearly endless.  For Caregivers, the reasoning has to go deeper; but, it’s also somewhat complicated.  For those of you who aren’t Caregivers yet, let me try to explain.

Caregiving, in its truest form, is really about relinquishing one person’s desires to meet the needs of another.  Caregivers give, it’s in our nature.  This can be fantastic for Care Recipients, but Caregivers have to learn how to balance the giving to others with a certain level of giving to themselves.   Things like taking the time to exercise can feel self-indulgent to a Caregiver.  Isn’t there laundry to do, an errand to run, food to prepare, meds to order??  Yes, there probably are, but Caregivers need to understand that by taking care of themselves, they become better Caregivers.

Think about it from this perspective.  As a Caregiver, have you ever had to suddenly be the stabilizer for someone losing their balance?  Have you ever had to help someone out of a chair, out of bed or off the toilet?  Have you had to contort your body to tie the shoes of someone using a walker or lift a wheelchair into the back of your vehicle?  Speaking of wheelchairs – yes, they have wheels, but an incline is still an incline.  Would your Care Recipient enjoy a ride through the park, zoo or botanic gardens??  Are you physically able to push them?

Taking care of your own health and strength as a Caregiver doesn’t just benefit you, it benefits those around you.  It helps you deal with stress, gives your brain a hit of good chemicals and helps with the strength and endurance you need to take on the constant challenges of caregiving.

Caregivers are far more likely to take on tasks, especially difficult ones, if it will benefit their Care Recipient.  So…Caregivers…time to get moving.  Just like the list of motivating factors, the list of options on how to get moving and improve your physical well-being is nearly endless.  Join a gym (and actually go), borrow some DVDs from the library to try out new routines at home, go for a walk (or a run for you crazies out there), take your Care Recipient out and push that wheelchair.  If your Care Recipient is ambulatory, but slow, go on a walk with them at their pace and then ask if they’d mind going for a ride in the wheelchair to “help you out”.  Let them know that you are trying to improve your fitness and by pushing them in a wheelchair, they can help with encouragement and being your physical resistance.  Besides, it’s a beautiful time of year to go for a walk.

Personally, I’m not a group exercise person.  I have a gym membership, but it’s more about the fact that my gym has a water massage table.  Seriously, that is what gets me to walk into the gym.  I do love to work out on my own though – unfortunately, I get bored if I don’t change up the routine regularly.  I have a collection of exercise routines on DVD (ok, and the old Tae Bo on VHS) that I can do in the basement.  My favorite piece of equipment is my NordicTrack.  It’s more than 25 years old, but still does the trick.

My biggest motivating factor is to not need my kids to care for me the way we are providing care for a family member.  I know that the decisions I make today, in my 40s, will impact my health and fitness when I’m in my 80s and beyond.  If I stop moving now, it will just be that much harder to get around later.  Yes, there are weeks and sometimes months when I don’t make the time to exercise, but I always come back around to it and once that first week of ridiculously sore muscles has passed, I always wonder why I stopped before.  I want to be the mom who can go hiking with my adult kids, the grandma who sits on the floor to play games and goes to Disneyland from open to close.  I want to be the silver-haired octogenarian who is still gardening, the nonagenarian who mows the grass and the centenarian who ambulates independently.  All of those goals mean I need to commit to my well-being now.

So do you.

~ Amanda