Be Fit to be a Caregiver

Photo by Andres Ayrton on

First, the disclaimer. I’m not a doctor, a nutritionist, or an exercise physiologist. I’m not a personal trainer, and my only expertise in sharing what I do today is born of personal experience. I do believe in Newton’s Law: An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest. And that’s not a good way to live (at rest, that is) if we want to be productive and change the world for ourselves or someone that we love and care for, right? So, here goes…

The experts tell us we are nothing without our health, but what does that really mean? I know lots of people who struggle with chronic health conditions, but they manage to live satisfying, productive lives and are active in both their church and community. But here’s the thing: in order to live any life of quality, we all must do certain things regularly to keep our bodies in good working shape.

Family caregivers have many challenges in their role of giving care to others. As the years pass by, time takes its toll on us physically and in many other ways as well. In order to be fully equipped to care for aging family members, we must keep ourselves as strong and fit as possible. Over the next several weeks we’ll discuss how to improve our fitness physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. Don’t be intimidated by this opportunity…be honest with yourself about where you are now and think about where you’d like to be by this time next year. It’s all in your hands!

First, let’s consider your physical health. This takes in many factors, and the first one is how often you see your doctor. We should all have a check-up at least once a year to monitor basic indicators like weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and other factors. These numbers are like the dashboard lights on your car; when something lights up, your doctor can know what service is needed.

Next, how active is your lifestyle? A couple of years ago I had a health issue that sent me to the hospital for a brief stay. I had embarked on a personal fitness journey 8 months earlier (after checking in with my doctor to make sure I could do this safely, because it’s always good to do this first) that resulted in my losing nearly 50 lbs. and greatly increasing my energy level and strength. By doing some kind of sweaty exercise at least 30 minutes every day and eating healthy 80% of the time, I made great progress toward my physical fitness goals, and my doctor was thrilled with this.

I didn’t start out this practice at full throttle. In fact, every day in the beginning I had to pray for the energy to get started. I dreaded every workout, but I went anyway. I started by walking on a treadmill every day at the gym. It was winter, so outdoor walks weren’t really an option. Over time I increased my speed and incline, and even started to run a little. Next, I moved to the elliptical machine. At first, I could only do ten minutes on this monster, but after a while I could do thirty minutes or more, and what a great workout! I also incorporated yoga, swimming, biking, weights, and racquetball into my workouts as my strength and stamina improved. As the weather warmed, outdoor walks and bike rides were invigorating. (Racquetball was my favorite, but in my late 50’s my arthritic knees don’t really like this sport anymore.)

This lifestyle became my fitness motto, and even when I was hospitalized, I asked Chris to bring my yoga mat so I could at least do stretches. The improvement to my health alone was worth the effort, but every other aspect of my life also benefitted from this change in my daily routine.

Another important element of my journey was my cheerleader, Chris. My husband was a constant encouragement to me, offering love and support along the way. He even got inspired to make some changes to his routines, and today he works out harder than I do. Having an accountability partner is most helpful when you undertake any lifestyle change. Shifting routines that have been built over many decades takes dedication, focus, and courage, but the benefits far outweigh the initial discomforts. 

Wherever you are in your caregiver journey, Chris and I invite you to join us on a walk over the next few weeks to achieve improved fitness levels in all these areas of your life. You may find you are a better family caregiver because of it. 

We also hope you’ll join us in the comments below and share your heart about fitness in general.


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