Heart Smart Tips for the Family Caregiver

Heart Smart Tips for the Family Caregiver

  • February 07, 2017

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, women provide the majority of informal care to family members. And they wear many hats in the process, including “hands-on health provider, care manager, friend, companion, surrogate decision-maker and advocate.”
 
The Family Caregiver Alliance estimates the value of care that women provide to be a staggering $148 billion to $188 billion annually.
 
Since February is Heart Health Month, it’s worth noting that 1 in 3 women die from heart disease every year. Heart disease is the number one cause of death for women. So it’s important to take steps to focus on heart health when you are under the constant stress that comes from being a caregiver.
 
Here are a few heart health tips that family caregivers can benefit from.
 
February is Heart Health Month
 
Smart Snacking
A craving for crunch is not uncommon when it comes to choosing the perfect snack. But salty foods can have a negative impact on the heart. Instead of reaching for a bag of pretzels or chips, try snacking on baby carrots and hummus.
 
A diet high in added sugar is just plain bad for you and your heart. If you have a sweet tooth, keep fresh fruit on hand. Pineapple, strawberries and apples are guaranteed to soothe your craving while also reducing your risk of heart disease.
 
Regular Exercise
It’s no secret that the key to good heart health is a combination of a nutritionally balanced diet and physical activity. Making those two big changes at the same time, however, can be so daunting that you lose momentum before even getting started.
 
If exercise is new to your routine, or if your schedule doesn’t allow for much free time, try exercising in small doses. Working out for 10 minutes, 3 times a day will earn you the same health benefits as you would receive if you spent 30 straight minutes at the gym.
 
You can also invest in a wearable fitness tracker that monitors the amount of steps you take in a day. It might encourage you to take the stairs instead of the elevator or to walk a few blocks to the store instead of hopping in the car.
 
A Good Night’s Sleep
A 2011 study by the American Heart Association revealed that getting between 7-8 hours of sleep each night is crucial to lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of cardiovascular episodes.
 
The clinical director of Emory Women’s Heart Center, Dr. Gina Lundberg, told Go Red for Women (an offshoot of the American Heart Association) that “people who get seven to eight hours of sleep have more alertness and better focus. They have less depression and anxiety. Getting a good night’s sleep has a positive impact on your metabolism and weight loss benefits.”
 
Stress Management
Stress management is a key component to heart health. Finding ways to lower blood pressure will also reduce your risk for a heart attack or stroke. This is especially important when you are coping with the stress associated with being a family caregiver.
 
Meditation has been proven to have profoundly positive effects on the brain and physical body. The best part about meditation is that you can do it anywhere at any time of day.
 
Stop Smoking and Limit Drinking
Smoking cigarettes has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease because it raises blood pressure and the likelihood of blood clots. While many members of the older generations may not see the harm in smoking as it was once so widely accepted in society, research has proven again and again that cigarettes negatively impact on your overall health.
 
In addition, heavy alcohol intake has also been linked to high blood pressure, stroke and heart failure. The American Heart Association recommends that if you choose to drink, you should ask your physician for guidelines on what they consider drinking in moderation to be.
 
Take a Break
Finally, the best gift you can give yourself--and your heart—may be the gift of time and relaxation. Respite care is an excellent way to indulge in some guilt-free “me-time” when you are a caregiver. You and your senior loved one might even discover that an assisted living community is the best option for them in the process.

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