How Fitness Makes a Difference When You Are a Caregiver

It wasn’t the first time I walked around a hospital while Ava was in surgery. But, this time it had little to do with a daily step goal. 

Listen to article

More than two years ago, Ava was having breast cancer surgery. I was 40 days into a year long 20,000 steps a day challenge. While she was in surgery, I walked laps in the hospital garage. It helped me reach my goal that day and walking was far better than sitting in a waiting room watching morning TV.

This time, a daily step goal wasn’t even on my mind. Ava was in a terrible car accident the day before and was having surgery to repair some of her broken bones. While I still didn’t want to sit in a waiting room, this walk was more about gaining some clarity about the journey we were now undertaking.

The surgeon seemed confident Ava would run again. That was a big concern for Ava since the broken bones were in her pelvis, sacrum, right leg, and left foot. All of those bones are needed to run well. Even with the optimistic outlook it would be a long time before Ava even walked, much less ran.

And, that was why I needed clarity.

Ava would not be able to put weight on both legs for at least eight weeks. She would be in a wheelchair need a great deal of assistance…especially in the early weeks as she recovered from the accident trauma and surgery. I was trying to wrap my brain around what that meant. What would she need? How would I provide that? And, how would I do this while working?

We had just moved to our new home in South Carolina from Maryland. I was one week from starting a new career chapter of working from home. I still hadn’t figured that out, but was looking forward to finding my new work rhythm. The accident changed that in an instant.

I had a lot of questions and walking is one of the ways I solve problems. I think better when I move. Walking also helps calm me. And, I certainly needed that. I was devastated by what Ava had endured from the moment she saw the other car about to hit her until she was sedated for surgery.

Three things became clear as I walked around the hospital that afternoon. 

  1. My past commitment to fitness helped prepare me for this moment. 
  2. My current commitment to fitness would help me be the care-giver Ava needed.
  3. My un-changing commitment to fitness would be a gift to my future self once the care-giving season was in the rear view mirror.

While this is a blog about walking for fitness, it’s even more about the motivation needed for fitness. And, while I don’t think for a moment that you will read this article and be motivated to “exercise” in case you find yourself in an intense care-giving situation…I do hope you will better understand that fitness impacts everything you do…including things you never planned for.

FITNESS PREPARES YOU FOR THE UNEXPECTED

As I was walking, I felt deeply grateful for how my fitness commitment prepared me for what was coming:

  1. Fitness is not easy. There have been many days when I simply don’t feel like it. This was especially true during my 20k One Year Step Challenge. But, because my commitment didn’t rely on my feelings I did what I needed to do. I suspected I would be facing similar feelings in the days ahead. 
  2. My daily commitment to fitness is tied to a much bigger “why.” This is also helpful when the struggle is real. I knew I would not “enjoy” some of the tasks Ava would need assistance with, but my bigger “why” was serving her in a kind and loving way. That was far more important than any momentary inconvenience.
  3. I was physically ready. Taking care of another person’s needs requires strength and energy. I was so grateful I was already there. I was ready even before I knew I needed to be ready.

FITNESS HELPS WHEN LIFE GETS HARD

I didn’t fully understand all that Ava would need help with before she left the hospital, but I knew a pretty good amount of that help would require the energy and strength I just mentioned. 

  1. There were more than a few times as I was helping Ava move from one place to the next she commented, “I’m really glad you work out!” I couldn’t imagine how much harder those first few weeks at home would have been if I didn’t have the fitness level I had.
  2. For more than a month, Ava needed assistance around the clock. This meant getting up once or twice in the middle of the night. It had been a long time since our kids were babies that was required. This was the hardest part of care-giving for me. I was grateful for the energy necessary when I needed to wake up and help her.
  3. Research keeps telling us that exercise is an amazing stress-reducer. I sure lived that during those challenging early weeks. While I didn’t have nearly as much “walking time” as before the accident, I still made every effort to take a walk to keep my head clear and my stress low. 

EVEN WHEN IT’S HARD, FITNESS IS AN INVESTMENT IN YOUR FUTURE

As I walked around the hospital, I understood I would not be able to do all of my fitness activities for quite awhile. Not having as much time was certainly a factor, but I also couldn’t risk an injury. This would not be a good time for even a minor muscle tweak. But, I also understood I couldn’t push pause on everything. Here’s why: 

  1. While the doctors gave us a timeline for Ava’s recovery, it was not guaranteed. I needed to maintain my fitness both for today and as long as she needed me.
  2. At some point I would be able to re-engage all of my fitness activities and I didn’t want to lose too much momentum in the meantime. In my opinion, that’s the hardest part of fitness…building momentum. It needs to be taken care of when you have it. 
  3. I also didn’t want to get comfortable with sitting. I could feel the tug, when Ava didn’t need me, to find something to watch on Netflix. Too much of that is not good for me.

FITNESS SUGGESTIONS IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IN A CAREGIVER ROLE

Ava and I are both extremely grateful her injuries appear to be temporary. Time will reveal whether there is any lasting damage from the accident, but everything right now points towards a pretty full recovery. It’s been an honor to care for Ava. 

It’s also been eye-opening. 

I recognize so many others are in this role right now. And, for some, it is a much longer journey. In fact, one of our new neighbors is on the front end of that. His wife is in a wheelchair for health reasons. This is a fairly new development and likely will not change. John doesn’t have a finish line like I did with Ava’s accident recovery. 

It’s also possible this brief season might be preparation for a longer care-giving season in the future. That would make fitness even more important.

If you find yourself in a care-giving role here are five things you can do to improve your fitness and make life a little easier for yourself and the person you’re caring for. They need you at your best!

  1. Make a commitment. For all the reasons above, your fitness matters. That’s why you should not rely on simply whether you feel like it. Because a lot of days, you won’t. 
  2. Walk. I’ve been blowing this horn for years. Walking is flexible, sustainable, effective, and fun. It’s the perfect fitness activity when life is at it’s most challenging.
  3. Set a goal. I challenged myself to get at least 10,000 steps a day while we were in the most intense part of Ava’s recovery. A lot of those steps happened while I was taking care of her. That goal also motivated me to keep moving when she didn’t need me.
  4. Be creative. Look for opportunities to move. Fitness doesn’t have to be this “other” activity that we set aside time for. I can walk around my block in less than ten minutes. That was helpful to know when a little chunk of time opened up and I felt comfortable leaving Ava alone. 
  5. Include others. We never thought about how wheelchair friendly our neighborhood is when we were buying our new house. We have wide sidewalks with no hills. After the accident I quickly realized Ava and I could “walk together” when the weather was nice enough. And, since that was one of the reasons we moved south, it was “nice enough” more than it wasn’t during January and February. We took a lot of walks together. Those walks provided fitness for me, a change of scenery for Ava, and a chance to talk. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY

You never know what a day will bring. That was a cliche for me until December 27. For Ava, that day brought pain and many months of recovery. Next week, you’ll get a look at how Ava’s commitment to fitness is helping her recover.

For me, December 27 drastically changed my daily to-do list. And, my commitment to fitness made that adjustment easier.

Fitness doesn’t just help you look and feel better. Fitness also helps prepare you for some of life’s greatest challenges. Don’t wait until those challenges are at your doorstep. Start getting ready now.

Walking is the perfect way to begin, or increase, your fitness. I recommend you start with a 30 Day Walking Challenge. There are three challenge levels. You choose the level that is appropriate for where you are right now. The goal is building your fitness momentum and the 30 Day Walking Challenge is designed to help you do that. You can download your free guide to the 30 Day Walking Challenge today.

If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the brand new Fitbit Inspire 2! The Inspire 2 has double the battery life, and also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.

(By the way…if you use the link above to buy a Fitbit Inspire 2 this blog will receive a small commission. It won’t add anything to what you pay, but letting you know is the right thing to do)

I also recommend subscribing to this blog for weekly encouragement and motivation. Establishing and maintaining a fitness habit is not easy. Receiving a regular article to help you keep moving forward might be the difference maker you need. To subscribe simply click FOLLOW (to the right if you’re reading on a computer or below if you’re on your phone)

5 thoughts on “How Fitness Makes a Difference When You Are a Caregiver

  • Thanks for taking us on your journey with Ava. I admire your commitment to her! I’ve been on a similar journey with my Dad during the last six months….but very blessed to be able to be his caregiver. Such a honor to help. And yes…..keeping fit helps in all aspects!

  • I’m always inspired by youe posts. However, I have one quesion: I assume you walk even on Sundays, which leads to the conclusion that a day of rest isn’t in your itinerary?!

    • Hi Julie. I guess it depends on how you define rest. If you mean the complete cessation of all activity, then no. That said, I firmly believe rest is crucial for fitness and life. Rest has become crucial during the past year which has been filled with lots of activity and lots of stress. As a result, I’m becoming even more intentional about rest. For me, that doesn’t mean sitting. I actually find walking restful. A slower pace and no agenda while I walk is wonderful! Thanks for the question!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.