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Caregivers Must Care for Themselves So They Can Care for Others

November marks National Family Caregivers Month, a time coordinated by the National Family Caregivers Association to acknowledge family caregivers and the vital role they fulfill. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the efforts of family caregivers and provide them support.

It is estimated that there are more than 65 million American caregivers who tend to special needs children, older parents, or loved ones with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Experts agree caregivers need to take time to focus on their own well-being, both for themselves and those they care for.

Caregivers can leverage Monday as a simple, cost-effective way to nudge themselves toward healthier behavior. A study about the Monday effect, conducted by Johns Hopkins and San Diego State University, was published recently by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study showed that healthy thinking and behavior are synchronized to the week, with Monday being the day people are most “open to buy” health.

Faced with demands on their time, caregivers often forego healthy eating and exercise.

Caregiver Monday (caregivermonday.org), an initiative of the nonprofit Monday Campaigns, emphasizes that key to staying healthy is for caregivers to carve out a dedicated time at the beginning of each week to focus on the tools they need to keep their healthy habits consistent. Diana Rice, registered dietitian for The Monday Campaigns, encourages caregivers to use the following strategies to stay healthy:

  • Plan to cook in batches: Home cooking takes time, but it’s one of the best ways to ensure that both you and your loved one are consistently eating healthy meals. On Monday, look at your schedule and carve out a time of the week to cook several large batches of meals that will refrigerate or freeze well for consumption later on. To cut down on the number of meals you’ll make, look for recipes that you and your loved one can both enjoy by exploring the recipe resources compiled by associations dedicated to your loved one’s medical condition(s). The recipes you pick don’t have to be complex, just look for meals that are high in produce, legumes, and/or whole grains.
  • Stock up on healthy foods and cut out the junk: Take time to plan your grocery list and shopping trip on Mondays and commit to sticking to your list when you hit the store-that way, there’s no excuse for junk in your cart. Purchase what you’ll need for the recipes you’ll cook in batches, and if you know you’ll need foods to eat on the go, look for healthy options like pre-cut vegetables, hummus, low-fat cheese, plain yogurt, and unsalted nuts. Steer clear of foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, as these foods primarily provide empty calories, not the nutrients you need to stay healthy and fight stress.
  • Make exercise time “me time”: Exercise shouldn’t be a dreadful activity. Even light exercise can help you relieve stress and stay active. Each Monday, take time to plan when you’ll have time free from caregiving to go for a walk or a relaxing bike ride. Use this time not only to fit in some much-needed physical activity, but to calm your mind and enjoy nature. To help you stick to these commitments, consider scheduling your exercise dates with friends and colleagues.

With a healthy body and a calm mind, you’ll be able to provide your loved one with better care.

For more information on caregiving, healthy recipes, and exercise, visit caregivermonday.org, MeatlessMonday.com, MoveItMonday.org, www.facebook.com/caregivermonday, and www.twitter.com/caregivermonday.

This article was adapted from information provided by Monday Campaigns.

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