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Exercising When You're Caring for Someone Else

How to make time for your own fitness needs

spinner image How Caregivers Can Find the Time to Exercise, Mature woman doing yoga exercises on a Nintendo Wii Fit in the living room of her house, How Caregivers Can Find Time to Exercise

Caregivers have little spare time for themselves. So when you do get a break, you're probably craving rest, rather than thinking of exercise. Yet, of the two, exercise could be a far better choice. It may prevent you from getting sick, help you sleep better and is almost certain to give you more energy — three things of prime importance to a caregiver.

Your well-being can affect the quality of care you provide to your loved one, says Wendy Lustbader, M.S.W., a national lecturer and the coauthor of Taking Care of Aging Family Members: A Practical Guide. "It is better to get a break, if you can, as you're taking care of two lives," she says. Also, research has found that caregivers are more vulnerable to illness and can get sicker if they don't take care of themselves.

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Here are a few steps you can take to get yourself moving:

Keep it simple

Going to the health club may be attractive, but it may not be realistic if you squander precious time on packing appropriate clothes, traveling to and from the gym, and arranging alternative care for your loved one while you're there.

Instead, you can keep exercise as simple as a brisk walk around the block. "I recommend not thinking big. Just take a walk," Lustbader says. "[Caregivers] are often overwhelmed from a busy workday, so just walking as exercise may be the most they can do. It's a great release and way to be alone, recharge, meditate and collect oneself." Don't think of this as "inferior" exercise. Many studies have demonstrated that regular walking is one of the best things you can do to improve physical and mental health.

Another option is to use exercise videos at home. Your loved one may be able to sit on the couch and watch you work out, or you can try to schedule your video during nap time or when he or she is otherwise occupied. You can always stop a video quickly if your loved one needs your immediate attention.

Get enough

Exercise recommendations are much the same for anyone. Your goal should be 30 to 40 minutes of moderately intense exercise at least three times a week.

Ideally, you'll want to exercise continuously for 30 minutes or more. (Some research says this gives you the maximum benefit). However, taking that much time off may not be an option unless you have backup help.

It's OK to get your exercise "here and there" throughout the day. Research shows that even little bursts of activity are beneficial. Park the car farther away from the grocery store to get some extra steps in, or take the stairs instead of the elevator. Build up to more time as you begin to see and feel the benefits of exercise.

Challenge yourself for a good workout

Your exercise goals may include losing weight or toning certain body parts. Or you may be seeking to release stress and regain energy, stamina and strength. Try to get the most from the time you exercise. When you take a walk you should move briskly, to get your heart rate elevated. You should feel that you've exerted yourself a bit. Working up a sweat is one way to tell that you are getting a good workout. Another clue is to listen to your breathing. — it should become shorter, but you should be able to hold a conversation. If you can't have a conversation (even with yourself), slow down. And, remember, check with a health professional before beginning any exercise program.

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Walk and work out with purpose

Pick a destination, and time yourself to get there. Change the destination and path frequently to prevent boredom and to challenge your body.

Write down your goals and stick to them. Using an electronic or a manual pace counter can help you track your progress andstay motivated. Competing against yourself (or against a friend) can make exercise a fun and interesting challenge.

Don't forget strength training

On days when you can't walk outside or visit the fitness center, make time for strength training. Caregivers responsible for lifting loved ones in and out of bed or chairs require a strong core. Your core is the area around your trunk and pelvis and is where your center of gravity is located.

This story was previously published by Johnson & Johnson.

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