The demands of caregiving can make exercise seem like an unachievable challenge.

Perhaps you can’t leave your loved one alone, or when you do have time to yourself, the last thing you want to do is take a jog around the block. Yet, finding time to exercise is essential.

According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise enhances mood, energy, and sleep, and it helps combat varied diseases, including stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, depression, arthritis, and many types of cancer, which means it’s worth making an effort, not only for yourself, but for your loved one.

Exercise can also be fun and social, which means it can help relieve two of the most common pitfalls of caregiving—isolation and stress.

But how can you work it into your day? Here are some things to try:

1) Start Small

There’s no need to jump into a full exercise regime. If you’re watching a favorite television show, it’s okay to start during the commercial breaks with some leg lifts or even arm curls using a can of vegetables. Maybe try a few stretches while cooking dinner or attempt to touch your toes whenever you get a glass of water. You could take a mid-day walk with your neighbor or stretch before walking out to get the mail. You can set aside 10 minutes to exercise or just incorporate a few things into your existing activities. Any movement is worth celebrating, so think about small slices of exercise you can add to your day, then give yourself an A for effort, any effort.

2) Try for Consistency

Instead of focusing on training for a big goal like achieving your perfect weight, aim for consistency. Put a star on your calendar every time you work out, even if it’s only for a minute or two, and try to get five stars every week. The goal is to get started and make exercise part of your life, and that’s it. If you can achieve that goal, you’ve done something vital to improve your health and happiness—which is the point.

3) Make It Fun

If exercise is fun, you’re more likely to do it, even if it’s only fun some of the time. For example, perhaps you like to dance. Invite some friends or family over for an informal dance party or have fun dancing by yourself each day to a favorite song. If you enjoy socializing, plan a walk with a friend, so you can chat while you stroll. If you’ve ever enjoyed anything physical, whether it’s bowling or biking, try to find a way to incorporate that activity into your month, even if it’s only on those rare occasions when you have some extra help to tend to your loved one.

4) Get Creative

Perhaps there’s a way to combine caregiving with exercise. Maybe your loved one could do some swim therapy on one side of the pool, while you enjoy taking a dip on the other side. If the local senior center has any helpful classes for your loved one, take advantage of that time to wander the neighborhood and look at houses or visit the local mall and window shop. If you make the effort to think of novel ways to exercise, you may surprise yourself with some intriguing new ideas.

No matter what activity you do, don’t criticize your attempts. Instead, give yourself kudos for everything you try. If you tell yourself anything negative, you’re likely to stop trying, so celebrate your successes, even if you’re only able to manage a short walk. You’re exercising, and that’s the most important thing!

Thank you for reading, please share with a friend, and stay well! —KK

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