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

5 Physical activity as respite

As outlined in Session 1, caring for someone can be relentless and exhausting so taking a break, or using respite care, is vital for a carer’s wellbeing (Carers UK, 2021). Video 4 uses a helpful analogy to allow carers to see why it is so important to prioritise their own wellbeing and value self-care (see Further Reading for more information on self-care).

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 4
Skip transcript: Video 4 How can we support carers?

Transcript: Video 4 How can we support carers?

How can we support carers? A good carer puts the person they care for first, and puts their own needs on hold. Right? Wrong. On an airplane there's a reason why we're told to put on our oxygen masks first, before helping others. It makes sense because then you can help others. As a carer, it is important to look after yourself by eating a balanced diet, exercising, and by getting a good night's sleep. Looking after yourself as a carer is not selfish. It's sensible. When your needs as a carer are taken care of, then the person in your care will benefit too.
End transcript: Video 4 How can we support carers?
Video 4 How can we support carers?
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As highlighted in the video, and from what you have learnt in this session so far, physical activity can provide self-care opportunities for carers with both physical and mental health benefits. This time away for adult carers can be spent alone, or with company, and be used to enjoy being physically active through activities such as gardening, going for a walk, or using the facilities in a local park, all of which can be enjoyed alongside the benefits of being outdoors (Methley et al., 2020). As well as the physical and mental health benefits, these are all activities that can be completed at no cost. The NHS (2019b) provides guidance to ‘get fit for free’, which you can access via the link given in Further reading.

Image of a senior woman working out on outdoor gym equipment in a public park.

For young carers, being physically active independently could be more challenging and they might need to be part of organised, supervised activities. Indeed, carers of any age might prefer to be part of a social group, such as a group yoga class, for their active respite, as evidence highlights that carers can often become isolated (Carers UK, 2019; Carers Trust, 2021). You might recall that being active and connecting with others combines two of the Five Ways of Wellbeing mentioned in Section 1.

There are, however, carers who might feel less comfortable leaving their care recipient. In addition, Madruga et al. (2020) argues that there can be access issues for carers, particularly for those in rural areas, and identifies that home-based exercises can be more convenient for the caring population. One outcome of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting movement restrictions put in place, was a shift to individuals seeking physical activity and exercise opportunities at home and in an online format. This has resulted in an increase in home-based exercise options becoming available and organisations such as Sport England have provided guidance (see Further Reading). It is important to remember, however, that it is the motivation to be active that must also be supported, as you will explore in Activity 7.

Activity 7

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes.

Listen to the short audio clip of the BBC 5Live radio interview with Candice Lingam-Willgoss, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Fitness at The Open University, as she talks about exercising during the pandemic and how we might be facilitated to be active. As you listen, consider how what was recommended during the winter lockdown of January 2021 might be applied to carers.

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Transcript: Audio 6


If you want to get yourself started with fitness at home, if somebody is listening now, they're making a list, what should you do? Where do you start?
So my first tip would definitely be to create an exercise space. Whether that is you can use your garage, whether that is a spare bedroom, whether that is an extra spare room you have that you can use to put your stuff out and have as your exercise domain, so to speak. Making sure you've got the right kit, it's important that even if you're exercising at home, you wear the right things so you can exercise safely. Music, you've got one of my songs on to exercise to, which is--
Oh, you like this one?
Yeah, I do like this one, I have to say. Which most of my friends know, and they despair whenever I put it on. But music can really motivate you. Having a playlist that kind of triggers you into that exercise zone. Different beats of music will help you perform in different ways. So if it's something that's uplifting, if it's something that makes you feel happy, makes you feel energised, you're much more likely to feel motivated to exercise. So I think music's really, really key. I think variety is essential. Having different types of exercise that you do, so that you mix it up.
People get really bored doing the same thing. And I think that's been a little bit of a problem with people who've have been used to the gym. They do one type of exercise and therefore don't have that variety and don't necessarily feel comfortable doing different types of things. So mix up some power walks. If you don't like running, maybe give it a go. If you've got an old bike, get out on that. And then do some home stuff. Maybe do an online class. So have variety in things as well.
And then I think probably one of my key things I always say to people is set some goals. Now we all set goals on a day to day basis, whether that is connected to our work, whether that's connected to personal challenges. But setting them connected to your exercise is really, really important. And that might be you've set yourself a long-term goal for the whole of lockdown.
And it doesn't always have to be something massively challenging, running a 5K in 25 minutes. It can be small things. It could be being able to sustain running for two or three minutes. It could be trying to do three home workouts a week. It might be going to that 7PM yoga session every Friday. And also within that, having set goals for every single workout you do. We all like to feel kind of positive, and we all like to feel like we're achieving. And if we set these small goals, every session can leave us feeling quite pumped, and feeling energised, and feeling like we've achieved. So I think that's another really important thing. And then my kind of, I suppose, a final thing I would always say to people is whatever exercise you are doing, try and get outside to do something active. Because being out in the fresh air is so important, even if it's just a 20 minute walk in the morning. That will help not just your health and fitness, but also your mental well-being. And there's nothing out there that will ever say getting physically active is bad for you. It's always going to benefit you both mentally and physically.
Yeah. It's one of those things, I think-- and I found this when I first did the couch to 5K-- sometimes you don't want to go out and do it, but you never come back regretting it. You know, you never come back feeling worse than when you went out.
No, and I think that's always the challenge for people who don't exercise is that they don't know that you get that feeling. However hard it is to push yourself out there, that sense of satisfaction afterwards is what-- anybody that's a regular exerciser has days they don't want to do it, but they know you get that positive feeling afterwards. And that's what people-- that's what makes people go out when it's wet and it's cold, maybe they're tired, because you know you will feel better.
Why I personally, one thing I do is I always exercise first thing in the morning. I know sometimes that means I have to get up quite early. But I find if I leave it later, sometimes things can throw me off in the day. If I go early I do it early, it sets me up for the day. I think I'm more productive at work. I think I'm probably just a better person generally if I've gone out and have done something.
End transcript: Audio 6
Audio 6
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Candice offers her top tips to get people active and recommends individuals can be more motivated to exercise if they create an exercise space, have the right kit and listen to music, among other top tips. Taking part in a variety of activities was suggested to avoid boredom and perhaps the key aspect that was emphasised was setting goals (see Further Reading for more information).

You might have reflected that setting physical activity goals can be helpful to carers to support their motivation to be active. Candice’s comment that physical activity ‘always makes you feel better’ might also have interested you. In the previous sections, you considered the barriers that carers face to being physically active, but with the knowledge that in spite of fatigue and tiredness, physical activity will help carers to feel better, it might be the boost that you need.

You will now examine how a carer can be active with their care recipient.


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