You Can Prioritize Your Own Health, Even If You’re a Caregiver

Caregiving requires sacrifice. We sacrifice our time, sometimes our careers, and too often our health, as we care for someone else who is aging and/or ill. It can be disheartening to work so hard to build a life and then put our dreams on hold or watch parts of our lives unravel due to a role so few of us ask for or even ever knew existed. But ultimately, caregiving is a choice – and just as we choose to aid someone in need, we can choose how we will prioritize our own lives as we move through the caregiving experience.

lizyogaAs I write this blog post I have 321 days until I turn 50 and I have goals for the next part of my life! For me, turning 50 is an important checkpoint. What have I enjoyed about my life so far? What aspects of my life do I want to pull through into the next phase and what new things do I want to add? Are there habits I want to shed? How has caregiving impacted my life? As I age, what parts of my life can I no longer take for granted, and what do I need to do to ensure I am best positioned to meet my goals? What choices am I going to make?

prioritize your own healthI am grateful to Abbott and Ensure Enlive for inviting me into the Mind Your Muscles program at this interesting time in my life. The program has challenged me to think about the strength and energy I will need to continue to do the things I love in life. And, it has opened my eyes to just how much I have let my caregiving experiences thus far impact my health. While I was caring for two parents during major health crises, I developed terrible eating habits, lousy sleep habits, and exercise, well that became a nice to do, as in if I had time and felt like getting off the couch. (I rarely did.) As I’ve said before, I want to spend the next part of my life thriving, not just surviving. And I’m determined to make 50 the new strong. That means, I have some work to do.

I learned via a survey that Abbott conducted with AARP:

  • that protein is a power nutrient and the recommended daily amount is roughly 53 grams for a 150 pound adult; and that older adults need nearly twice this amount to help preserve their muscles.
  • and speaking of muscles, that adults naturally start losing muscle around age 40, and this number can accelerate with an illness and injury (or the stress of caregiving!).

That last fact was a real eye-opener. If during my 40s, I let my health take a back seat to my caregiving, (and everything else in my life), then where would I be at 50? And I knew it wasn’t just me who was in this situation. So many of you tell me your own health is suffering because you are so overwhelmed by your caregiving responsibilities. But the reality is, we won’t be caregivers forever, and don’t we want a life to return to when caregiving ends? If the answer is yes, then we need to maintain at least a base level of our relationships, our careers, our selves, and most importantly our health, through our caregiving experiences.

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And so I decided I would make some small, sustainable changes in my lifestyle and that I would share them with you even though I didn’t love the idea of posting pictures of me in workout clothes on the web. Why small changes? Because I am still a caregiver, after all, and while it’s my choice to prioritize my health, I have to be realistic about what I can and cannot take on. Why share? Because it has become my mission in life to help other working daughters through their caregiving experiences and if I don’t practice what I preach, I can’t be effective.

My original plan at the start of this journey with Ensure Enlive was to swap out unhealthy foods with healthier choices, get more sleep, and add walking and yoga to my daily routine. But I just wasn’t feeling the yoga and so I changed my exercise goals to be more fun. I took advantage of long summer days and heading to a trail or the lake after work with my kids. We’re exploring the woods (and hunting Pokemon!) and we’re paddlebaording and kayaking together in the early evenings. I also vowed to add more protein, and get more sleep.

And here is what I’ve learned over the last few months during my journey with Ensure. For me, exercise needs to be fun. I am so much more likely to make it a priority if it feels like play. I’ve learned that a good night’s sleep, something I thought was no longer attainable after so many caregiving-induced bouts of insomnia, is much easier when I exercise. And I’ve learned that it is hard to get the right amount of protein in my diet. I’ve added eggs, nuts, and lentils but it’s never enough. Luckily, I’ve also added Ensure Enlive, a nutrition drink that contains a high amount of protein (20 grams) and helps people ages 50 and older get the key nutrients their body needs to help maintain muscle mass. It’s ideal for me because I am recovering from my intense caregiving days and it has been shown to improve health outcomes after a health-event – and caregiving, if we are not careful, can become a major health event for the giver.

ensure enliveAnd here’s what I have learned for all of us as caregivers. We can make a choice to prioritize our own health even while caring for someone else. Not only is this our right; it is our responsibility – especially if we are near or past 50. Luckily, there are plenty of resources to help us on our journeys. So I challenge you to think about how nutrition and exercise can help you maintain your muscle mass as you navigate your caregiving years and plan for the next phase of your life.

For more information on Ensure Enlive click here.

For more resources on caregiving click here.

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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4 comments on “You Can Prioritize Your Own Health, Even If You’re a Caregiver”

  1. Suzanne Fluhr Reply

    I also had a 6 month period of intense caregiving. It was physically draining, but even more so emotionally, especially because I’m not a natural nurturer. More protein sounds like a good idea. I’ve never considered a supplement like Ensure, but now I’m thinking that might be something to consider and try.

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