Fitness for the Caregiving Olympics
By Sherri Snelling
When it comes to caregiving, staying fit so that you have the energy to care for your loved one is like training for an Olympic marathon, not a sprint. Even though your caregiving race may begin with a crisis event, very often it lasts far longer than you may anticipate – not days but weeks, months, years. Although caregiving may leave you exhausted and without any time you must make to get some type of physical exercise into your daily and weekly routine. Ask a friend or neighbor to give you a break or create an online community where friends and family volunteers can help lighten your load so you can squeeze in some “fitness time.” Staying physically fit actually gives you more energy for caregiving and finding these minutes for your body health improves your mental health as well. Taking our cue from the 2012 Olympic athletes, here are 5 ways you can “train” for just a few minutes a day so that you have the energy to keep going as a caregiver:
Offering a whole host of physical benefits such as improving your flexibility, circulation, alleviating lower back pain and lowering your blood pressure, stretching also helps your balance and coordination. Make sure you go slow and don’t overdo it. Watch Team USA Dawn Harper “stretch” for her second gold medal in the 100mm hurdles.
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Lift You don’t have to be able to lift as much as Team USA weightlifter Sara Robles to help build strong bones and muscles. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, every year we lose 1 percent of our bone and muscle mass. Lifting light weights (2-5 pounds) will not only help prevent osteoporosis as you age but also boosts your energy levels and improves your mood. If you don’t own weights or have a gym membership, you can lift soup cans or do isometric exercises like lunges and squats in your own living room.
Core Strength/Dance The U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team is all about core muscle strength. One of my favorite gymnastics events is floor exercise because it combines dance with strength and balance. Dancing makes you strive to achieve full range of motion for all the major muscle groups, it improves strength by forcing the muscles to resist against a dancer's own body weight, it increases your endurance because your muscles have to work hard for increasingly longer periods of time without fatigue, and it elevates the heart rate which increases stamina. You can take a class at a gym or community center--or even dance solo at home.
Swim Hydro-exercise requires a pool but it can be an extremely effective way of exercising that tones your whole body. It is a low impact way to move all your major muscles; the buoyancy of the water helps you avoid stress and strain on joints and limbs. Just close your eyes and think of being in the pool next to 2012 Olympic Gold Medal winner Ryan Lochte – hand me my suit!
Breathe, Focus, Relax There are many things that set Olympians apart from the rest of us, and one of those things is their ability to focus, relax and create calm around them to go for the gold. This is not an easy task but one that can be mastered by anyone. Meditation research pioneer Dr. Herbert Benson, author of "The Relaxation Response," prescribes doing the following twice daily:
Choose a word, sound, short phrase or prayer that you repeat continuously for 10-20 minutes. Sit still and comfortably. Close your eyes and relax your muscles. Focus your attention on your breathing, simply observing the in-and-out breaths. Begin repeating your word. When other thoughts enter your mind, don’t force them away or become annoyed; gently ignore them and continue your repetitive word or phrase.
Benson found that this simply exercise when done daily can help with a host of health issues including fatigue, hypertension, asthma, constipation, infertility, insomnia, rheumatoid arthritis, chest pain, allergies, allergic skin reactions and more.
To comment, click here. About the Author
Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance self care while caring for a loved one. She is the former chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving and is writing a book about celebrities who have been caregivers that will be published Feb, 2013 by Balboa Press, a division of Hay House.