Caregiving can take its toll mentally and emotionally. What we don’t often think about is the physical stress it puts on our bodies. The following moves help prevent or reverse the creakiness that can set in with long hours of sedentary caregiving – perhaps helping you to walk, stand, carry and move better throughout the day.
Practice these moves throughout the day or string them together into one movement sequence that you do a couple of times a day. No matter where you’re starting, if you change how you move, you can change how you feel.
Every time you sit down, do one of these before you settle in.
- Sit on a flat, hard chair with you ankles stacked directly below your knees.
- Reach your arms up, lean your torso forward ands shift your weight back into your heels as you stand.
- Sit back down slowly, pushing your hips back, body weight still over your heels.
- Reach your arms up and touch the wall above the doorway (or tuck your fingers into the molding).
- Lower your rib cage as much as you can. This will intensify the stretch in your arms and shoulders. Hold for a few seconds.
Do this while washing dishes or brushing teeth. To walk effortlessly for life, your ankles need to move well. This helps strength and balance- and may prevent suffering later on.
- Roll up or fold a thick towel in front of you.
- Place the ball of your right bare (or sock covered) foot on top of the towel, heel on the floor. Your toes should point forward.
- Place your left foot in front of the towel. You’ll feel a stretch in your right calf. The tighter your lower leg, the harder it will be to step your left foot in front of your right; so if you can’t do it at first, keep that left foot behind the towel. Repeat on the other side.
Do this exercise any time you’re on your smartphone or computer, even when you’re reading a book, since chances are that your head is jutting in front of the rest of your body. The move not only gives you healthier placement of your head (it’s heavy and wants to hang) but also gets you to use the muscles that are designed to support your noggin (but that we’ve become unused to using).
- Slide your chin back toward your neck until your ears align over your shoulders.
- Keep the back of your neck long. You’ll know you’re in the position when your have at least two extra chins.
Don this to clean up the floor after meals or spills. Your knees and hips require lots of complex movements to stay healthy, and you’ll get some here if you don’t use a mop.
- Crouch into a squat and place your arms on the floor in front of you for support. Keep your heels raised as far as you need to.
- As you wipe the floor, stay in that squat and walk forward or to the side, like a crab, using your arms to help support you. Stick to chair squats if this bothers your knees or if you have low back issues.
Hauling. It’s a fact of caregiving, Whether it’s boxes of supplies from Costco, laundry baskets, blankets or wheelchairs, you spend a lot of time doing it. Done right, it can make you stronger, healthier, and more resilient; and done wrong, as some may already know, it can make your back and scream at you.
How To Do It
To bend over or lift, you’ve likely heard that you need to use your knees when you’re lifting something in order to take the load off of your lower back. This is true. However, in addition to bending your knees, you should also shift your hips back and untuck the pelvis. This moves the load onto the stronger muscles of the glutes and thighs.
To carry, we often throw all of our items in a cart or backpack for greater ease, but you can strengthen your arms by changing how you carry things. Hold your “load” – be that groceries, boxes, blankets, or books – as close to your body as possible, but constantly shift how you carry it. Split the weight between both arms or shift between holding it in one arm the the other. This gives you the chance to fit in some arm strengthening move into everyday tasks of shopping or putting items away.
SMARTER WAYS TO STAY SEATED
With how nice it feels to plop into a chair, you’d think your body would love sitting. In fact, sitting is one of the most challenging poses for our bodies. It can leave leg muscles weak and knee and hip joints tight. The bad news is, that makes us want to sit even more. The way to reverse this isn’t necessarily standing, but it’s to “position cycle” when you’re sitting. You do this by using your seated position to stretch and strengthen muscles while in a seated position.
- Sitting with both feet flat on the floor and back straight. No slouching. Your body should form a series of right angles – from your head to your hips, from your hips to your knees and from your knees to your ankles and feet.
- Bring one foot up and cross the opposite knee with its ankle. Again, your legs should now form a new right angle – knee to ankle/knee, and ankle/knee to the other foot on the floor.
- Using a slight hand pressure, you can stretch the inner thigh muscles of the crossed leg to get a good stretch and strengthen (Make sure to maintain your good back posture, holding all right angles).