Providing care for any individual presents one of the most challenging relationships in a person’s life. However, caregiving can also be one of the most rewarding experiences you will encounter. Living a healthy lifestyle may decrease your risk of developing heart disease and will enable you to provide the optimal level of care that your loved one deserves.

It takes a big heart to provide daily care to someone. Many challenges are associated with the responsibility of taking care of a loved one, including emotional stress, physical strain and financial complications. Thats why it is essential for the caregiver to not only have a big heart, but also take steps to maintain a healthy one.

According to research published by The Family Caregiver Alliance, caregivers are more at risk than non caregivers for the development of cardiovascular syndromes such as high blood pressure or heart disease. The alliance also reports that women who provide care to a spouse are more likely to have a history of high blood pressure, diabetes and higher levels of cholesterol.

Your lifestyle has a lot to do with preventing heart disease. Although some risk factors are present due to family history, sex or age, there are lifestyle changes you can adapt to promote a healthy heart. It is essential to make sure that as a caregiver, you are in the best physical shape possible to continue providing much-needed care for your spouse, parent, sibling, friend or child.

A primer for caregivers

The following advice for caregivers has been adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions Office of Women’s Health:

  • Be informed.
    Learn about your family members condition and needs by talking to physicians and health care providers. Find out as much as you can about housing and health services options so that you can make the best decisions for your family.
  • Get support.
    Join a local support group or take caregiving classes offered by local hospitals or nonprofits like the Red Cross.
  • Be an advocate.
    Research your legal rights through the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family Medical Leave Act. Keep a documented history of medical issues so that other family members and caregivers can understand your loved ones special needs.
  • Be empowering.
    Focus on the positives of what you and your loved one can do. Celebrate accomplishments and milestones achieved by family members with special needs.
  • Take care of yourself.
    Be reasonable with expectations of yourself. Set aside time to maintain personal hobbies and interests.Take breaks when you need them to stay mentally and physically healthy.

Michele Mongillo, RN, MSN is a Clinical Director who has over 20 years of nursing experience in a variety of settings including acute care, head/spinal cord injury rehabilitation and long-term care.