This week I would like to welcome regular guest blogger and my mom, Sandi. My mom is my primary caregiver and she also assists me with my blog. Being a single mom and caregiver can make maintaining your health difficult. Recently, my mom has been much happier and she has much more energy than she has in the past. I wanted her to share how she has made those changes. I am very proud of her and very relieved that her health has become a priority.
Last spring, I splurged and bought a FitBit Alta. I never expected the major changes this slim wristband has brought about. I asked Hunter if I could use this platform, hoping to reach out to other caregivers. Actually, the benefits of a FitBit can benefit just about anyone.
Recently, I read an article written by the Family Caregiver Alliance. Although it references unpaid, family caregivers of elderly family members, much of the article is relatable to family caregivers of adult children with disabilities. I am Hunter’s primary caregiver, which can weigh heavy on me. We have a wonderful team of part time caregivers who assist me in his care schedule. However, over the years we have experienced gaps in care. The reality is Hunter relies on me to fill in those gaps. Unfortunately, cuts in budgets and services have increased those gaps considerably. Consequently, these cuts cause a domino effect, which have led to immense stress and anxiety.
There are many fears parents of children with disabilities experience, even after they enter adulthood. My fears as Hunter’s mom and caregiver are plentiful. However, my greatest fear is my own mortality. What will happen to Hunter in the event of my failing health or death? Parents of children with disabilities learn quickly to let go of those things we cannot control. I can’t cheat death, that is a fact we all have to accept. However, I can control my diet and exercise to be as healthy as I possibly can be, for as long as I can.
Last year my 50th birthday crept up on me. I never really obsessed about my age. However, 50 makes you think. How many years do I have left? How many years of caregiving do I have left? I guess my FitBit is a result of my mid-life crisis. Thankfully, it is far less expensive than a sports car and far less stressful than a younger man!
FitBit and Physical Health
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance article, caregivers are at a significant risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and many other chronic illnesses. Obesity and bodily pain go hand in hand. As a result, the physical stress of caring for an individual with a disability can lead to a decrease in activity, an increase in pain and an increase in weight.
My first week as a FitBit user was eye opening. Despite crashing physically exhausted every night, I was not moving! I was averaging less than 5000 a day! That is less than half of the recommended 10,000 steps. Regrettably, I found standing up was becoming laborious and painful. My weight was once again creeping up each month.
I need to not only be around for Hunter, I need to be able to continue his care. It is crucial for his continued independence. Most of all, I need to get fit for myself. I don’t just want to be alive, I want to live my life to the fullest.
Since owning my FitBit, I went from averaging 4,000 steps to almost 20,000 steps daily! My heart rate has dropped from the mid 80’s to mid 60’s! That is huge! In just a couple of months, my fitness rating went from the lower end of fair into the lower end of good. I still have a long way to go to excellent, but I am moving in the right direction!
The Fit Bit app on my phone allows me to meet other FitBit users. Upon suggestions of others in the FitBit community and my dear friend, Kaytee, I began watching documentaries on plant-based eating. When I say watching, I mean watching while I marched in place. It is the only way I watch TV these days!
After watching “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” (click here to watch) and “What the Heath”, I began a 22-day juice cleanse/fast. As a result, I have not consumed a single animal product since the start of the fast. Shortly after, I joined the vegetarian/vegan group through FitBit. The support and recipe ideas have made this transition far easier than I thought.
As a result of the change in diet and the increase of activity, I have watched my scale change directions. Most importantly, I feel so much better. The aches and pains have lessened considerably. My energy level has increased. This past weekend I attended a powwow that I attend every year. A hill I used to struggle to walk up was a breeze to climb. I did not have to stop to catch my breath, nor did not knees scream at me on the way up.
With each step, my fear of leaving Hunter any day soon lessens.
FitBit and Emotional Health
The Family Caregiver Alliance article discussed the issue of emotional and mental health of family caregivers. Family caregivers are at great risk for depression, substance abuse and anxiety disorders. Exercise has been proven to be one of the most effective tools in improving mental health.
The past several years I have noticed the negative effects of long term stress. Depression and anxiety began to be an issue. My FitBit was not the magic pill. Nor is it the cure. However, it was the first domino in a long healthy chain.
I first noticed a difference during my initial walks. I felt at peace during my nature hikes. I was able to pick up my camera once again. The extra energy allowed me to get more things done in a day, which helped reduce some of the stress.
The major change came during the juice cleanse/fast. Prior to starting the fast, I spent virtually every night sitting on the couch overwhelmed and in tears. I literally cried every night. Over the 22 days of juicing, my depression lifted. The stress did not disappear, but the way I handled the stress changed.
My nights are now spent playing with my dogs and walking on my newly purchased treadmill. During my depression era, I isolated myself more and more. Invitations were refused and I lost interest in my past hobbies.
Most recently, after spending all day with my sister and VERY active nephew, I had crashed on the couch ready for a quiet movie night. I received a text from my cousins inviting me to a ball game down the street. I was there within 10 minutes! My cousin said she almost did not contact me, thinking I would not go. It was at that moment I realized how bad things had become and so grateful for the steps I had taken…literally, each and every step.
FitBit and Sleeping Habits
Quite honestly, I initially bought a FitBit to monitor my sleeping patterns. I have had sleep issues for years, actually decades! A friend and fellow insomniac, posted the health risks that are associated to lack of sleep on Facebook. It was terrifying. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to many serious health issues such as, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Chronic sleep deprivation can also result in early mortality.
The first week of wearing my FitBit confirmed my fears. The number of hours I sleep a night was far less than recommended. Most alarming was the quality of my sleep. Over two months have passed since tracking my sleep patterns. Disappointingly, the number of hours have not improved, some weeks the amount of hours have lessened. Currently I average between 4-5 hours a night. My goal is 7 hours of good quality sleep.
However, the quality of my sleep has improved greatly! My “awake” periods have decreased below the average. My time in the deep sleep stage has increased above the average amount for women my age. Time spent in the important REM sleep stage has also increased greatly. I wake up feeling more refreshed and ready to go.
FitBit and Isolation
In the quest to meeting my daily step goals, I am finding myself walking in the community more and more. On rainy days, I have joined seniors in the morning at our local mall. On sunny days, I walk along the Wisconsin River or walk around downtown Wausau. There are times I simply pass others with a smile and a “Hello”. Other days I strike up a brief conversation with strangers. Best of all, some days I run into an old friend!
Even on the days I choose to hike solo or with my trusted rescue retriever, Cymba, I do not feel isolated. I feel at one with nature and peace replaces stress. I return relaxed and renewed.
The FitBit app allows you compete in various stepping challenges. Currently, I am in challenges with family, friends and new FitBit friends. You can win virtual trophies and badges. Additionally, you can build a support system. I have joined multiple groups, including groups for weight loss and daily activity. As a result, I find motivation to continue on this path. I do not think I could have stayed motivated without my Fitbit and the FitBit community.
FitBits come in various styles and prices. Therefore, it is relatively easy to find one that fits into any budget, ranging from $50 to $200. The phone and computer app is free. The FitBit tracks your activity, steps, heart rate, calories burned and sleep patterns. You can also log in your weight, food and water intake.
Caregivers are at extreme risk for health issues and even early mortality. As a caregiver, it is vital to make your health as much of a priority as the family member you care for. A FitBit is definitely a great investment and effective tool to assist in caring for the caregiver. Strap one on to your wrist and step away toward a healthier and happier future!
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