As caregivers, we carry around  a lot of worries and concerns.  These can be anything from financial concerns, sadness over our loved one’s declining health, frustration with our loved one’s behaviors, anger at siblings for not helping to simply how to survive another day of  caregiving.

All of these worries and concerns translate into symptoms of stress in our bodies.  Some of these symptoms include anxiety, irritability, muscle tension, sleeplessness, tearfulness, headache, stomach ache, irregular heart beat, and even asthma.

One easy way to combat worry and stress is by walking.

Before you stop reading and think to yourself “this is ridiculous; I have no time for walking”, ask yourself this: do I have time to be sick myself and possibly end up hospitalized?  Remember that almost 50% of caregivers die before the one for whom they are caring. So please indulge me by reading the rest of the article and consider whether this is an activity that you might enjoy.

There are several reasons that walking helps to reduce worry:

  • it triggers the release of endorphins which relieve pain and help to promote relaxation and a feeling of well-being.  The higher your level of endorphins, the greater your sense of well-being.
  • it increases blood flow to the brain which helps with mental sharpness
  • it helps to relieve tension in muscles by utilizing correct posture thus “unknotting” them
  • it gives time to get away from the stress-inducing activities and allows other (calming) thoughts to enter the mind
  • it utilizes rhythm (swinging the opposite arm  to the leg) which exercises the right-left brain connection (Carolyn Scott Kortge, author of The Spirited Walker, says ” movement in the body brings movement in the mind.  It’s just natural alchemy”).
  • it allows the walker to see that there is more to life than just their own problems
  • it allows for a sense of gratitude to enter the thoughts (for the flowers, the trees, the pretty store fronts, etc.)
  • it gives a time for the mind to go deeper (what is the purpose of life, why am I here, and WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO LIVE THE REST OF MY LIFE?)

Ways to Begin and Things to Consider:

  • If your loved-one can’t be left home alone for 30-45 minutes, schedule a respite care worker, a family member or even a neighborhood teen (who might austensibly be there to dust or vacuum) so that you can be free of worry during your walk.
  • DON’T walk with the person for whom you are caring.  This is your time.  If they like to walk, schedule an additional walk later in the day or week.
  • Recruit a “walking partner”.  In my neighborhood, there are a group of 4 of us who walk the community together (although I must confess, they are much more dedicated to it than I am. I DON’T do 7 a.m. walks.)  Our 3.2 mile walks talk approximately 45 minutes at a slightly brisk pace.
  • Walking partners are good because laughing and chatting with them will cause even more stress reduction.  You will also find that you’ll hold each other accountable to the committment of walking.
  • Some walkers practice meditation and/or listen to mp3 players while walking.  I would caution you to be aware of your surroundings for safety’s sake.
  • When walking, to get the most benefit for muscle tension relief, walk tall, with shoulders back, keeping your eyes forward.  Try not to slouch.

My request to you is that you consider  incorporating this activity into your schedule if it feels like a good fit.  Try it for a month and let me know how it goes.


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