Caregivers often feel selfish for making their own health a priority when they are caring for someone with cancer. However, staying in good health will make you a better caregiver. Also, staying healthy, active, and well-rested can help you avoid getting overwhelmed or burnt out. You may be so used to taking care of someone else that it's hard for you to switch gears and focus on yourself. Learn how to make time for your own physical and emotional health.
Taking care of your own physical and emotional health can give you the strength to help others.
Making time for regular physical activity is important for everyone. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. Caregivers may feel too busy to make time for exercise, but finding time to be active can be a great way to unwind and feel strong.
Physical Activity Recommendations
Follow these physical activity recommendations from the American Cancer Society:
- Adults should get at least 150 minutes of medium intensity activity or 75 minutes of high intensity activity (or some combination of these) every week.
- Reduce time spent doing motionless activities, like sitting or lying down, watching TV, or using a computer.
- Any increase in physical activity has health benefits.
Benefits of Regular Exercise
Physical activity is part of a balanced lifestyle—along with weight management and diet—that plays a part in your health and can change your cancer risk. Regular physical activity can improve your health by:
- Controlling your weight
- Keeping your bones, muscles, and joints healthy
- Helping to prevent high blood pressure and diabetes
- Promoting psychological (mental, emotional) well-being and improving symptoms like stress, depression, anxiety, and fatigue
- Improving balance, fitness, and physical functioning
- Lowering the risk of death from heart disease
- Lowering the risk of early death
Create Opportunities for Exercise
Making time for 30 minutes of physical activity each day can be hard. Use these tips to find time for exercise while being a caregiver:
- Set aside time to exercise in advance. Don’t let yourself make excuses unless absolutely necessary.
- Start small. If you don’t exercise regularly, start with light exercise for a short period of time and build up to more challenging activities and longer workouts.
- Break it up. Split up your daily 30 minutes of exercise into 10 minute parts.
- Take a walk with your loved one. People with cancer benefit from regular exercise, too.
- Find activities you enjoy. You won’t stick with exercise if you don’t like what you’re doing.
- Sign up for HealthyYouTXT. This free text message program can help you build skills and habits for a healthier lifestyle.
Learn more: Check out the Be Active page for more information on the benefits of exercise and how to start an exercise routine.
When faced with challenging situations and a busy schedule, making healthy food choices can fall low on your list of things to do. Committing to a healthy diet can give you the energy you need to be a good caregiver.
Follow these nutrition recommendations from the American Cancer Society:
- Make food, drink, and portion choices that help you reach and stay at a healthy weight.
- Focus on plant-based foods. Eat at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day.
- Limit how much red meat and processed meat you eat.
- Eat whole grains instead of refined grains.
- If you drink alcohol, limit how much alcohol you drink.
- Follow serving size suggestions and practice portion control. Read food labels to become more aware of portion sizes and calories. Eat smaller portions when eating high-calorie foods.
- Limit sweets, foods, and beverages with added sugar.
Benefits of Healthy Eating
A balanced diet can improve your health by:
- Reducing your risk for heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure
- Reducing your risk for some cancers
- Helping your body build healthy bones, muscles, skin, and blood
- Helping you lose weight or stay at a healthy weight
Find Ways to Eat Healthier
- Plan meals in advance. It’s hard to make healthy food choices if you wait until you’re hungry to decide what to eat.
- Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. Add these healthy foods to every meal and snack.
- Choose healthier cooking methods. Avoid fried foods and choose foods that are baked or grilled.
- Use herbs and spices. You don’t have to lose flavor when you have a full spice rack and fresh or dried herbs.
- Keep healthy snacks around. Make healthy choices in between meals by keeping nuts, whole grain crackers, and fresh fruit around.
Make Time to Rest and Relax
We all know that being well-rested is important, but it’s easy to skip a full night’s sleep or deny yourself downtime when you’re taking care of someone with cancer. Give yourself some “me time” throughout the day, take short naps as needed, and try to get a good night’s sleep every night.
Tips for a Good Night of Sleep
There are things you can do to get into the habit of getting enough quality sleep. Here are some suggestions that may help:
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine close to bed time. People who are sensitive to stimulants may want to avoid caffeine in coffee, tea, soft drinks, or chocolate close to bedtime. Likewise, the nicotine found in cigarettes and other tobacco products can also keep you up at night or prevent you from getting restful sleep.
- Avoid alcohol. Having a drink may help you fall asleep, but it can disrupt your sleep later in the night.
- Ditch the screens. Avoid looking at your phone, computer, and TV an hour before going to bed.
- Make your bedroom comfortable. Use curtains to block out light; sleep with a fan on for some background noise; and make sure your room will stay a comfortable temperature throughout the night.
- Establish a relaxing bed time routine. There are many ways to wind down before going to sleep. Read a book, take a bath, do some light stretching, or try a relaxation exercise.
- Stick to a schedule. Going to sleep at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning can improve your sleep quality.
- Avoid long naps. A short nap during the day can be refreshing and give you energy, but try not to nap for more than 30 minutes. Long naps can make it harder to sleep through the night.
Don’t Forget Your Own Health Care
Don’t give up your health care needs when caring for someone with cancer. The caregiver experience can be a reminder to get back on track with screenings and check-ups.
Screenings and Check-Ups
Schedule time to see your regular health care provider and to ask which screenings you should have. Caregivers often have to keep detailed calendars and records for their loved ones. You can use this as an opportunity to keep track of your own medical needs, as well.
If you are the caregiver of someone related to you by blood, find out whether their cancer carries a genetic risk and whether you should schedule a screening or genetic test.
Take Your Medications
Don’t let caregiving cause you to miss doses of your own medications. Use these tips to stay up to date on your prescriptions and on track with your doses:
- Ask your doctor to give you a large prescription to save trips to the pharmacy.
- Find out if your grocery store or pharmacy delivers.
- Set reminders or alarms on your phone.
- Use a weekly pill box and set out all of your medication doses in advance.