Physical activity for health and wellbeing in the caring role
Physical activity for health and wellbeing in the caring role

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Physical activity for health and wellbeing in the caring role

4.1 Martin’s story

In this section you will consider the case study of Martin, co-author of this course, and hear about his experiences of being a carer. Martin’s story – as a lifelong exerciser, sport science and public health graduate and qualified Physical Education (PE) teacher – offers a unique opportunity to understand a carer’s relationship with physical activity.

Activity 6

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes.

Listen to Audio 3 in which Martin discusses how his relationship with physical activity changed once he became a carer to his mum. Does Martin’s experience resonate with you?

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Transcript: Audio 3

Martin, thank you so much for agreeing to share your story with a particular focus on your relationship with physical activity and how it changed when you became a carer to your mum. I wonder if you could start by telling us about your relationship with physical activity before you became a carer.
Thank you, Nicola. You're more than welcome. My relationship with physical activity has always been a positive one right from a very early age, when I participated in sport and exercise, and it was such a positive experience that I wanted and actually led this into being my main career. I went on to graduate in sports science and physical activity and public health.
Competitively, I played football from an early age and ran to compete in 10K events, as well as going to the gym just for personal exercise and to keep fit for those competitions. And that was across a period of 20, 30 years. So as I say, it's been a long-standing part of my life and one that I never really envisaged being without physical activity.
And what was your sort of level of physical activity relationship immediately before you became a carer? You said about it being your career. Was that what you were doing?
Yes, I was teaching PE across two schools. And in my leisure time, should we say-- because it was leisure rather than competitive sport-- and was cycling, walking, and going to the gym, weights, and just resistance exercise. And that, as I say, would have been three, possibly four times a week.
So you really were extremely physically active, not only as part of your 9 to 5 job so to speak, but also in your free time. So it's really clear that physical activity was a significant part of your life. So how did this relationship change when you became a carer to your mum?
It was quite instant, Nichola. The immediate effects of finding Mum when she initially suffered the stroke, it was clear to say then that this was life-changing, both for Mum and myself. And once I understood the medical issues and what lay ahead really, then, as I say, my role with exercise was no longer-- or my own personal health and wellbeing was no longer the priority.
Everything then gauged towards Mum's health care, both on what I provided and sourcing and finding appropriate carers to do Mum's personal care. Such was the effects of the stroke that Mum needed care 24 hours a day, so there was very little time or respite. And I say, my relationship, immediately from Mum having the stroke, changed in the fact that it was no longer the important thing to me.
And so you stopped work. Is that correct? And so you no longer had that sort of relationship through work, but also your leisure time activities also significantly reduced or were very limited.
Yeah, that's correct. I phoned both schools on the morning that Mum was admitted to hospital just to explain that I wouldn't be in and told them the severity of the stroke, and I didn't know when I would be back. It actually ended up that I never returned to the schools and never went back at all. So professionally, yeah, that immediately stopped.
And leisure time for my own health and wellbeing, likewise, that was curtailed immediately again. Whilst you could say, yes, whilst Mum was in hospital receiving the treatment on the stroke unit, I could have found time to exercise, but I used to visit the hospital twice a day. I would be there four to six hours to actually feed Mum purely due to the pressure that the nursing staff was under.
End transcript: Audio 3
Audio 3
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You will have heard Martin describing how physical activity was a significant part of his life prior to his caring role. He considered his relationship with physical activity a positive one and chose a career in the field, in addition to taking part in sport and exercise in his leisure time. He reflected on a noteworthy shift in his priorities following his mum’s stroke, when his relationship with physical activity became secondary to his caring role.

If you are a carer, or if you reflected on carers that you know, you might have seen how your (or their) priorities changed upon being a carer. This might be with respect to physical activity and/or other areas of the carer’s life.

Now listen to Audio 4. What were the main barriers that Martin faced that impacted on his relationship with physical activity?

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Transcript: Audio 4

What would you say were the main barriers to physical activity that you experienced during your caring role?
Yeah, I think the priority was the major one, Nic. As I say, I no longer-- and when I had the time, let's say, prior to the stroke, when I exercised in the leisure time, I wasn't selfish, but I had the time. And I had the freedom to be able to participate in the amounts of exercise and physical activity I did.
But as I say, my own wellbeing came second to my mum's. So the main barrier to exercise and physical activity to myself was mum was now the priority. Mum's care came first. So that was number one.
Number two was probably lack of motivation and finding the time. Thinking it only takes 20 minutes, half an hour just to do even some simple exercises in the house, but I didn't have the mindset to do it. I couldn't program into my daily routine time for exercise.
So there was the fatigue, the motivation, and the time factor. And yeah, fatigue, I was very tired. And so providing, mum needed the care 24 hours a day. I chose to do this. I chose to leave work. And I chose to do that role. And I'm so privileged and proud I have done that role and provided mum with the care while she was living. I feel great satisfaction from that. But at the time, yeah, I was so fatigued. I just couldn't even find the energy to walk up the garden, let alone run anymore.
So three main factors, really, the priority, that mum came first, two, the lack of motivation, and three, finding the time, the fatigue.
End transcript: Audio 4
Audio 4
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The main barriers Martin faced to being physically active were:

  • Shifting of priorities – away from himself and fully focused on his mum.
  • Lack of motivation and not having the right mindset.
  • Levels of fatigue and lack of time.

You might recognise these barriers from Activity 4 when you examined research by Horne et al. (2021) and considered your own relationship with physical activity.

Now listen to Audio 5. What advice does Martin give to carers looking to become more physically active?

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Transcript: Audio 5

While acknowledging that carers will have different roles depending on their cared for, their care recipients, and their own circumstances, and reflecting back on the challenges that you faced in maintaining a positive relationship with physical activity, do you have any advice that you would give to other carers in terms of helping them sort of to be and become and maintain a physically active lifestyle?
Yes, I think, firstly, what I would say is one size doesn't fit all. You rightly said the demands upon that carer is going to very much be reliant upon the care needs of the care recipient. As a carer, you need to recognise your own-- listen to your body, really. Listen to your own health and wellbeing. And don't get to the point, what I did, and you just become into the position where so you can no longer provide.
So one, take note of people's experiences, and take note of how you feel. Number two, certainly, try and find someone that you can trust, and you can rely upon, to provide you with some respite, whether it be two hours a week. If it's more then that's a bonus.
Now, people are probably going to raise the point now, well, how can we fund this? If you are fortunate enough to find a really good friend, a really good neighbour, a relative that could help you out, then that is best. But if you have to fund it like I did, yeah, you just have to do it because you do need that break. I'll say that. Just those few minutes, a few hours a week just to be physically active for your own health and wellbeing.
So I think with regards the activity you undertake, you do to improve and maintain your own health and wellbeing, firstly, it has to be something that's enjoyable to you. You don't want to see it as being a chore, thinking, oh, god, I've got to exercise. It has to be enjoyable. And if you've engaged in an activity prior to being the carer, I think go back and try and rediscover if you've still got the enjoyment, still got the love for that activity.
So try something that's, yeah, really going to engage you back into physical activity. That may be walking. It may be dancing. It may be swimming, leisure activities, and so on. Even gardening. Just something that's physically active can actually give you that hours respite that really will benefit you so positively in the health and wellbeing. It cannot be underestimated.
End transcript: Audio 5
Audio 5
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Martin acknowledged that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ and that the demands on carers, and so their ability to be physically active, would be dependent on the demands of their care recipient. Despite these known challenges, Martin urged carers to listen to their bodies and to champion their own health and wellbeing. He encouraged carers to seek friends and family, or to find the monies, to support them to take respite care so that they could be active on a regular basis. When choosing an activity, Martin emphasised the need to find one that was enjoyable for the carers, and if possible to return to a previously enjoyed activity. He listed walking, swimming, cycling and gardening as suggestions.

Martin was able to be active as respite from his caring role, but also with his mum which she enjoyed. With this in mind, the next two sections look at these two options for carers: first using physical activity as respite and secondly being active with their care recipient.


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