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Heart Smart: Heart Healthy Tips for Caregivers
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Heart Smart: Heart Healthy Tips for Caregivers

February 21, 2016

Caregivers have many duties, from managing a senior loved one’s finances to organizing medical appointments and coordinating living arrangements.

It’s no secret that caring for a senior loved one can be challenging. Juggling so many responsibilities can be stressful. When caregivers experience fatigue and burnout, their cardiovascular health can suffer. This can lead to medical problems ranging from obesity to high blood pressure and stroke.

February is Heart Month. It is a chance to shine a light on the role caregivers play in families. More importantly, it is the perfect time to learn how to keep your heart healthy and strong for you and for the aging loved ones you care for. 

Heart Disease and Caregiving

Caring for a loved one can place you at risk for cardiovascular conditions including heart attack, hypertension, and stroke. Female caretakers and adult daughters are more vulnerable: heart disease kills approximately one woman every minute.

Here are the facts from the Family Caregiver Alliance:
  • Caregivers show an exaggerated cardiovascular response to stressful conditions, which puts them at greater risk than non-caregivers for the development of cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure or heart disease.
  • Women providing care to an ill or disabled spouse are more likely to report high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
  • Women who spend nine or more hours a week caring for a loved one have double their risk for heart disease.

Picture of inside of a chest, a heart

Heart Health Tips for Caregivers

There are steps you can take to manage your risk and keep your heart healthy while caregiving. They include:

  • Educate yourself. Explore your family’s medical history. Ask your aging parent if any immediate relatives have heart disease so you can better understand your personal risk.
  • Exercise. 30 minutes of exercise a day can boost circulation, make your heart stronger, and stave off weight gain that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Find ways to creatively work fitness into your daily routine. If you are a sandwich caregiver who works full-time, try making a weekly conference call a “walking meeting”, for example.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park a little further out at the mall.
  • Heart smart diet. Foods high in omega 3 fatty acids, such as salmon and avocado, are great for lowering cholesterol and improving health.
  • Find respite care. Caregiving is hard work. Give your heart a break from the stress by seeking respite care for your senior loved one. Use the time off to rest and recover. Accept offers from friends and family to help with caregiving responsibilities.
  • Schedule a physical. You may be a busy caregiver, but making time to see your doctor now can prevent heart problems down the road. If you haven’t had a physical in the last year, schedule one today!

Lastly, give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is: caregiving. Being less critical of yourself can help to reduce your stress level. By prioritizing your own well-being, you can ensure you are strong enough to care for your senior loved one now and in to the future.

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