The Baby Boom Generation is becoming The Caregiver Generation.
Millions of adults over 50 provide physical care and emotional support to parents or other family members and friends. Some also take care of their adult children or grandchildren, a situation that squeezes them on both ends.
Caregiving takes time and commitment. It's stressful and often seems to have no reward. But anyone in the position must remember to care for themselves, too. That includes regular physical exercise and living a healthy lifestyle.
In fact, “physical fitness is key to caregivers – and for the sake of everyone involved,” says Cyndi Mariner, an Active Age Fitness client and founder of Breathing Spaces, a support network.
Exercise relieves anxiety, stress, depression and high blood pressure, as Cyndi learned while caring for her mother for three years. In times of particular stress, Cyndi had to remind herself, “I wasn’t crazy, angry or a mean daughter” for having needs of her own. And she shared some valuable lessons in a conversation with the Functional Aging Institute.
‘I Feel Selfish’
Cyndi says caregivers often skip taking care of themselves for common reasons, like these:
“I’m fine. I’ll start going soon.”
“Mom needs help today. I’ll do that next week.”
“I feel selfish.”
“I don’t have time.”
“Others will judge me.”
Cyndi knows the pressure caregivers feel. "You're stretched thin, and you are so important to the person. But if you're not taking care of yourself, it just doesn't matter." Caregivers often feel they need “permission” to spend time away, but a lack of exercise is a serious symptom of potential burnout. "No one wins if that happens," Cyndi says. Exhausted caregivers don’t make good decisions. It’s no accident that flight attendants instruct passengers to secure their own oxygen mask before helping someone else, right?
It Can Be Physical Work
The Home Alone Alliance recently reported that half of America’s 40 million family caregivers don’t get enough instruction or guidance on the care they’re providing. They often experience pain of their own. And they can be socially isolated.
Cyndi points out of much of caregiving requires physical work – like carrying wheelchairs in and out of vehicles, helping the loved one up and about, and more. That's why caregivers have to stay strong and agile and keep their stamina up. Cyndi recommends caregivers build muscle, strengthen their core, and burn fat.
“It doesn’t take as much time away as some might fear. Just 30 minutes, three times a week should be manageable for anyone,” she says. Exercise at a fitness studio or gym also is a great social outlet, which is vital for everyone, especially those who might be shut in much of the time.
Let us help you figure out these challenges. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. It displays a smart strategy to deal with a challenging situation.
This article was originally published on ActiveAge.com.