A new study shows that family caregivers who engaged in routine physical activity reported lower levels of stress
Take care — of yourself.
Being a caregiver for someone else can lead to high levels of stress and serious health issues. But new research shows that there’s a simple way to curb that stress and improve your health: regular exercise.
A study released this week from the University of British Columbia found that caregivers who exercised at least three times a week for six months significantly reduced their stress levels, lost weight and even lengthened certain chromosomes believed to slow cellular aging.
Eli Puterman, professor of kinesiology and lead author of the study, recruited a sample of 68 physically inactive people who care for family members with diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia and who reported feeling high levels of stress. Puterman and his team separated the participants into two groups; one that engaged in 40 minutes of aerobic exercise three to five times a week and one that maintained their current level of activity. In the end, those who committed to 120 minutes of weekly exercise had improved levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, reduced their body mass index and reported lower levels of stress.
This comes at at time when 43.5 million people have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the past 12 months. The majority of them (34.2 million) are caring for an adult 50 or older with 18% of those caring for two or more adults; millennials account for more than 10 million caregivers. AARP reports that, on average, caregivers help with 4.2 out of 7 instrumental activities of daily living including transportation, grocery shopping and housework.
While the physical labor of caregiving takes its toll, the financial burdens can be even more stressful: A 2018 Northwestern Mutual study revealed that 34% of caregivers spend between 21% and 100% of their monthly budget on caregiving-related expenses including medicine and food. And, to cover caregiving costs, 67% said they reduced their own living expenses.
In addition to financial obligations, Northwestern Mutual reports that caregivers make sacrifices in their personal and professional lives. Indeed, 21% of experienced caregivers had to reduce work hours and 20% had to change their work schedule, while 76% had to choose between taking time for themselves and providing care.
With so many people selflessly giving themselves to serve another, Puterman said, “We need to design interventions that help caregivers take care of their bodies and their minds, and provide the type of support that’s needed to maintain that long-term.”
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