Maintain Your Own Health

Being a caregiver is as demanding as any job. You must be knowledgeable, with a good grasp of all the medical tests, insurance company procedures, and government regulations that pertain to your loved one’s care. You have to be flexible in the face of unpredictable change, able to juggle your schedule and your expectations at a moment’s notice. And you have to be a patient, but persuasive, communicator, able to represent your loved one’s wishes convincingly to physicians, lawyers, relatives, and friends.

Your Health Is Critical

You also have to be healthy. It takes the physical stamina of an athlete to be an effective caregiver, but here many caregivers fall short, placing their own well-being behind that of their loved one.

In the short term, you can end up feeling harried and worn out. In the long term, you run the risk of damaging your health. Poor diet and lack of exercise, for instance, are two of the most important controllable risk factors for heart disease, the single leading cause of death for American women as well as American men. Now is as good as any time to recommit yourself to a healthy lifestyle, for your loved one’s sake as well as your own. 

  • Build aerobic activity into your routine. Swimming, cycling, jogging, skiing, dancing, walking, and dozens of other activities can help your heart, but so can going down the hall to ask a coworker a question instead of sending an email or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Manage your weight. Keeping your weight under control requires some thought—about the groceries you buy, about the way you prepare your meals, and about the portions you eat. There’s no magical formula for shedding pounds, but you won’t succeed unless you consciously make healthy eating a priority.
  • Keep your cholesterol under control. Look for foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol. Watch your consumption of red meat and dairy products. When you eat out, head for the salad bar—but go lightly on dressing.
  • Visit your doctor regularly. There’s no substitute for a thorough annual physical, including blood tests, to track your physical condition.

There’s no doubt about it. Fitting time for your own health needs into a schedule that is already overflowing with obligations to your employer, your family, and your loved one is not easy. At the same time, there’s no getting around the fact that caring for your loved one is a long-term responsibility that requires your long-term health. Whether it’s a question of asking friends and relatives for assistance or managing your time more efficiently, making time for your own health is central to being an effective caregiver.