4 More Ways Caregivers Can Stay Healthy This Summer

If you know my story, you know Twizzlers, Diet Coke and wine are part of my personal history. In 2014, my life went haywire. Over the course of three weeks that summer, I admitted my father to the hospital, placed my mother in respite care so she wouldn’t be alone, was told my father had dementia, moved him into a memory care unit, got a call from the ER that my mother had been admitted, and then was told she had Stage 4 ovarian cancer. Prior to that I thought my life working full time, raising two kids, and promoting my book, was busy and stressful. Hah! I had no idea what busy and stressful looked like.

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From June of 2014 through late October that year, when my mother passed away, my diet consisted of these snacks during the day, and wine at night. Chewing on the red vines relaxed me, and the soda fueled me. And the wine countered the sugar and caffeine before I went to sleep. I didn’t have time to stop and eat, let alone prep meals. No wonder I only slept four hours a night. I was wired and I had a lot to do! Managing the logistics of two sick parents was the closest I came to exercise.

After my mother’s funeral, I thought I would return to the life I had before my parents got sick. I went back to work declaring, “I’m fine,” to anyone who inquired. I wasn’t. I kept making mistakes; I had underestimated the grieving process and so focusing on client work was a challenge. My body was in the chair at the desk and my fingers were on my keyboard writing plans and sending emails, but my mind and heart were elsewhere. And the recovery process – I didn’t underestimate that — I never even factored that in. All that sugar, caffeine and alcohol had added up – to the tune of 20 pounds. And when I returned to my pre-crisis eating habits the weight stayed, and even multiplied. Never one to care that much about weight, I barely noticed until earlier this year when I started to add exercise back into my life and realized I was dealing with a whole new body – one that had more body mass, but less muscle mass. Did you know the average person starts to lose up to 8 percent of muscle each decade starting at 40 years old? Plus my sleep was still lousy. I had time for more than four hours a night but I woke up at 3 a.m. most nights and stayed awake until it was time to go to work. Reclaiming healthy wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought it would be.

Lucky for me, about the same time I decided I wanted to move more and improve my overall health, I was approached by Abbott to try Ensure Enlive, a specialized nutrition chocolate Ensure enlivedrink that can be used to help rebuild muscles as you age. Ensure Enlive helps to fill in nutrition gaps and can help with recovery from a health setback. At first, I thought, “That’s not for me. I’m not recovering from hospitalization, injury, illness or surgery. ” But I am recovering. It’s well documented that caregiving can take a toll on people’s physical and mental health and if we caregivers don’t acknowledge that then how are we going to counter those effects? What is also well documented but much less publicized is the concept of the caregiver’s gain – the idea that caregiving can also provide many benefits such as increased mobility, strength, and mental well-being. But in order to achieve that gain, we need to practice self-care, if not during our caregiving experience, then certainly after in our “recovery” phase. One of my missions at Working Daughter is to help family caregivers realize the caregiver’s gain. And if I am going to do that, I need to take care of myself.

I was made aware of just how far I needed to go to reclaim my health when I accepted musclesAbbott’s invitation to the “Mind Your Muscles,” event where I was treated to an aerial yoga class, and learned about the aging process and the benefits of proper nutrition. I coined the event “Find Your Muscles” and boy did I ever! My abs (yes, I still had abs!) ached for days, and days, and days after the event. I was also reminded that day, as I juggled blogging, my day job, and caring for my kids and my father, that I needed a recovery plan that was realistic and fit in with all of my life responsibilities. I decided 50 could be the new strong and I had a year to prove it. I would make small, sustainable changes. My original plan was to swap out unhealthy foods with healthier choices, get more sleep, and add walking and yoga to my daily routine.

Summer has been the perfect time to make improvements. The weather is nice. The days are long. The vegetables are fresh, and, my kids are around. The small changes I committed to have been easy to manage and have inspired me to do more. So far, so good. Here’s my plan:

· Protein: I’m eating lots and lots of protein – eggs, avocados, chicken, nuts and more. The recommended daily amount is roughly 53 grams for a 150 pound adult. However, research shows that older adults may actually need about two times this amount of protein.

· Ensure Enlive: This nutrition drink helps me fill in nutrition gaps and get the nutrients, including protein and a unique ingredient called HMB, I need to rebuild muscles. Plus the chocolate flavor is delicious!

· Exercise: The kids are around so I skipped the yoga and instead I’m having fun with them. We’re paddle boarding, hiking, and swimming. swimpic

· Sleep: Sleep comes easier when I am taking care of myself. Who knew exercise was a better sleeping aid than wine?

And the results so far? I’m happier, healthier, spending more time with my kids, and without counting calories or feeling deprived, I’ve even lost a few pounds. While age- and illness-related muscle loss is inevitable, science shows that with the help of nutrition and regular exercise, muscle mass can be maintained and rebuilt, and I’m feeling it. Strong will be the new 50.

For more information on Ensure Enlive and how it can help you balance the effects of caregiving, visit the website.

Abbott partnered with influencers such as me for its Ensure Program. As part of this Program, I received compensation for my time. The opinions and thoughts in this piece are my own. Abbott/Ensure believes that consumers and influencers are free to form their own opinions and share them in their own words. Abbott/Ensure policies align with WOMMA Ethics Code, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines and social media engagement recommendations.

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