Cancer Caregiving is often a fulfilling experience, but can also bring on added stress due to the many physical and emotional demands involved. In honor of National Caregiver Month, we will be featuring a series of blogs on how caregivers can improve their own health. Each blog will focus on an aspect of your lifestyle that can help you, as a caregiver, to improve your well-being and quality of life.
According to an analysis of the 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), caregivers had a greater risk of being obese than non-caregivers.1 These results can likely be attributed to the amount of stress that caregivers carry, lack of time for physical activity, and poor nutrition intake. New responsibilities as a caregiver and the changes in a caregiver’s lifestyle can make he or she vulnerable to risks of chronic diseases, including obesity. Even after diagnosis, caregivers were found to continue the behaviors that negatively impact healthy including over half not meeting physical activity guidelines, 71% being obese, and 40% eating only a quarter of the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.2 When caregivers follow a healthier lifestyle, they have optimal stamina to support their loved ones.
The BRFSS study also revealed that close to one-third of caregivers had not properly received breast cancer screenings recommended by the American Cancer Society screening guidelines.1 Although the overwhelming responsibilities of caregiving may hinder the ability of caregivers to obtain cancer screenings as often as recommended, it is important to ensure that they are receiving timely cancer screenings. Taking on a role as a caregiver may be life changing, but it is vital that caregivers themselves take the time to take care of their own health.
Here are some important aspects of a healthy lifestyle that caregivers can focus on:
- Physical Activity – Physical activity is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise and physical activity will decrease the risk of chronic diseases, boost your energy, relieve stress, and improve your overall health. The ACS recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.
- Nutrition – Eating a well-balanced diet will enhance your health by providing adequate energy, maintaining a healthy weight, increasing blood flow to the brain, and simply making you feel good about yourself! When the task of caregiving is so demanding, it is essential that you are getting the right amount of nutrients and energy to give you the stamina and to build a strong immune system.
- Mind & Body – Give yoga or some other meditation and relaxation techniques a try! Set a time aside for you to relax and escape the stress. Even if it is for a short time, this personal time will make huge difference to you. It can also be helpful to seek support from other caregivers that are experiencing similar situations to help relieve anxiety.
Check back next week to learn how the benefits of physical activity can help caregivers.
Reeves, Katherine W., Bacon, Kathryn., Fredman, Lisa. Caregiving associated with selected cancer risk behaviors and screening utilization among women: cross-sectional results of the 2009 BRFSS. BMC Public Health.12(2012): 685.
Beesley, V.L., Prince, M.A., Webb, P.M. Loss of Lifestyle: Health Behaviour and Weight Changes after Becoming a Caregiver of a Family Member Diagnoses with Ovarian Cancer. Support Care in Cancer 19.2(2011): 1949-1956.