Dear Fun and Fit: I am 55 and want to get back into a fitness routine. I am overweight – by 50 lbs and am having such a fitness block to get started. I know all the reasons why I should exercise, but I feel paralyzed. My husband and I work full time. We have my aging, early-stage dementia parents in our home, adult care during the day; my husband and I care for them in the evening and weekends. Finding the time is challenging. We feel exhausted all the time. I welcome your ideas and suggestions. Susan
Alexandra: If you’re working full-time AND caring for your parents, it’s easy to see why you are exhausted. If I understand correctly, you are more frustrated by motivation and time issues; not a lack of information, right? So let’s look at some ways to reframe your motivation.
From the way you word your question, I gather you don’t like exercise too much (join 75-80% of the population). So forget about exercise – focus instead on what kind of MOVEMENT you enjoy. Do you like to walk, swim, dance, mow the lawn, bike ride, bowl; what? Anything that you do that is MORE than what you’re currently doing will help you be successful.
You also talk about feeling paralyzed, which triggers all kinds of things in my counseling brain, both literally and figuratively. It tells me you know what will happen to you if you DON’T change your habits, and that it’s overwhelming. I believe you are thinking in a 1-10 way. In other words, you are at 1 (I am not exercising, I have to lose 50 pounds & I have no time), and you can only think of 10 (I will be 50 pounds lighter). But you need to map out what 2, 3, 4 …. look like. If you have stairs at home or work, can you add 2 extra trips up and down each day? That could be step 2. Can you then make your food portions smaller and do 2 trips daily? Step 3. You don’t have to even contemplate intense, sweaty movement or weight lifting (this helps you burn extra calories even when you are NOT moving) until step 8 or 9. Write down your first few steps at least!
If your parents are ambulatory, can you walk around the block with them? Not only will it help slow their rate of mental decline, it will help keep YOUR brain healthier. (Read our post on the subject by clicking on the link). So when you are thinking, “I could get in a few minutes of exercise now, but…” remind yourself that those few minutes will not only help with your weight loss goal, but keep you alert as well.
You obviously don’t have any extra time in your day, so you might want to think of ways to change up some of your current routine. For example, how much of the day are you sitting, and when can you switch some of that out for standing or even pacing? If you spend a lot of time at work on the phone, you could be pacing while on calls. People who stay at a healthy weight tend to be fidgeters – can you add in some fidgeting? Another trick – every time you go to stand up or sit down, add in one extra sit-stand. You can add an extra 10,000 squats per year using this trick. Move stuff from convenient places to inconvenient spots. An example – I keep most of my food in a back pantry, which means I have to leave the kitchen quite a few times in order to get the ingredients I need to bake or cook. Put your phone across the room instead of near you so that you have to get up every time you need it. Anyway, you get the idea.
Even if you and your husband cannot get away from the house at the same time to be active together, he can still be a source of encouragement and support (nagging doesn’t count as support – I know; I’ve tried it). In our post about losing weight when you’re a caregiver, we talk about the importance of having a pal who is on your side.
Kymberly: Susan – With everything you have going on, no wonder taking on another “should duty” is exhausting. I agree with my sister about reframing. If you could shift from thinking of adding a fitness routine (yikes – another task in an overloaded life!) to seeing movement as a positive time for YOU and a break from responsibilities, you will have an easier, more successful time meeting your goals. For instance, if you or your parents watch tv evenings or weekends, would you find it helpful to perform stretches, yoga, or light jogging in place during ads? Near work, is there a park, interesting street, or a mall you can go to for your lunch break – even once or twice a week – where you can walk as you eat? As few as 5 minutes in nature has a calming effect; 10 minutes of cardio activity decreases stress levels, enhances energy, and assists brain activity so you will actually feel more awake; less fatigued.
Perhaps even more impactful and surprising is that you may need to sleep more to lose weight and minimize exhaustion. Caregivers are usually sleep deprived, which leads to higher stress levels and stimulated appetite. Our post on the role sleep, stress, and sugar play in weight management offers more insight.
Again, is your lunch time and place flexible enough that you could slide in a guilt-free 20 minute nap? Can you get to bed 20 minutes earlier? While sleeping may seem counter intuitive to getting more fit, it is possibly one of your key solutions.
Here’s to slotting in a bit more movement and ZZzzzzssssss for yourself! Let us know whether any of our suggestions get you moving in the direction you want.