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Caregiver Challenge: Take Care of Yourself

Ami Noss
By Ami NossJanuary 6, 2015

From boot-camp style fitness regimes to drastic diet cleanses, there is no shortage of trendy programs promising to help you completely overhaul your lifestyle in a short amount of time. Even if you’re not falling for the hype, the pervasiveness of these types of programs can tend to encourage an “all or nothing” mindset that can ultimately sabotage your self-care routine.

Caregiver Challenge: Take Care of Yourself

Taking the time to attend to your own health and well-being can be especially challenging if you’re a caregiver spending a lot of time in survival mode, either expending a lot of effort to help your charges through basic activities of daily living, or going from crisis to crisis. Of course, when others regularly rely on you to help them with crucial life tasks, it’s doubly important that you maintain your own wellness. Learn about tips for taking care of yourself during this time.

Huge Changes are Hard, Small Changes are Doable

Beth Bielat, personal trainer and founder of LifeBreath, has this in mind when she encourages her clients, who generally range in age from 50-90, to make “life tweaks, not huge changes.”

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Bielat recommends a moderate approach to health that includes things like:

  • Finding creative ways to move more during the day
  • Modifying favorite recipes to make them more healthful
  • Combining meditation with other activities

As she says, “Five minutes of meditation and 20 minutes of exercise can change your life.”

Caregiver Challenge: Tweak Your Routine

Since it’s a new year, A Place for Mom would like to challenge caregivers to build two or three small changes into their daily routines. Here are a few things to choose from:

Nutrition

Bielat’s theory of nutrition is refreshingly simple: “More good food, less bad food.” More specific steps you might take include the following:

  1. Target 80% Healthy Eating
    Green smoothies and lean proteins are lovely, but we all end up eating a grilled cheese sandwich or a pile of French fries on a more regular basis than we might wish. Don’t beat yourself up if your diet’s not 100% perfect, just keep doing what you can to incorporate good nutrition.
  2. Tweak Your Favorite Recipes to Make Them Healthier
    Bielat suggests not trying to radically alter the kinds of things you eat to fit with a diet plan. Instead, you should “take what you like and go from there.” If you have two or three recipes that you find yourself making on a regular basis, see if you can substitute an ingredient or two for healthier options. Try ground turkey instead of ground beef in your spaghetti sauce, or black beans instead of refried beans in your burritos, for example.
  3. Limit Snack Foods to Fruits, Vegetables & Nuts
    Cutting out snacks altogether is not necessarily realistic, but snacking can nonetheless be a source of lots of less-than-healthy calories. Keeping some apples and carrots around can help cut down on negative consequences of between-meal munchies.

Fitness

Ideally, says Bielat, you would incorporate stretching, strength training and cardio into your 20-minute fitness routine. “Interval training helps keep your overall time commitment down,” she says. “You don’t have to work out for an hour.” Here are some other ways you can improve your fitness routine:

  1. Do Your Workout in the Morning
    Get up 30-40 minutes earlier than normal and get your exercise in early. If you do it right away, not only will you not have to fret about how to fit it in later, you’ll start the day with a sense of accomplishment and a boost of endorphins.
  2. Take a Brisk 10-Minute Walk at Regular Intervals
    Not only will this help you achieve your fitness goals without absorbing substantial blocks of time, a recent Stanford study shows that even short walks can help boost creativity and problem-solving abilities.
  3. Combine Activities
    Dance while you clean the house, walk a few extra loops of the mall while you’re on a shopping trip, do your stretching routine while you catch up on a favorite TV show. “Do whatever is fun for you and gets you moving,” Bielat says.

Meditation

At age 16, Bielat tried transcendental meditation and decided it was “too heavy for the average person.” Later, she read “Keys to Conscious Living” and was struck by how simple meditation could be. She now recommends incorporating at least five minutes of meditation into your daily routine, preferably right after your morning exercise session. Here are a few techniques you can use if your new to the practice:

  1. Spend Five Minutes Focused on One Theme
    Instead of trying to empty your mind completely, try to narrow the scope of your thoughts and really focus. Bielat recommends thinking of all the people you love, one by one; thinking of something you’re grateful for; or imagining a white light surrounding your body, then thinking of each body part individually.
  2. Combine Meditation With Compatible Exercise
    This works particularly well while engaged in an activity that requires little external focus, such as running on an easy trail or pedaling an exercise bike. You can also combine it with activities that focus on breathing and movement, like yoga and Tai Chi.
  3. Commit Several Sessions Before You Give Up
    The ability to meditate is something you build upon over time. If you have trouble keeping your focus during your first few attempts, rest assured that this is totally normal and try again.

Stick With It: Find a Partner

As you embrace the challenge of getting into a new routine, you’ll have a better chance of sticking with it if you find a partner, or at least someone who will hold you accountable to your goals by checking in on your progress. Bielat says that a “good partner can be magical and very motivating.”

How do you feel about your current health and fitness? What improvements will you try to incorporate into your routine? Tell us in the comments below.

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