Strategies for Leading a Happier (and Healthier) Life as a Family Caregiver

Happiness brings with it positive health benefits, as we often read (and say here at Senior Care Corner).

But how can you be happy, or even stop to ask yourself if you are happy, when you have so much to do as a family caregiver?

It is hard for many who are caring full time for family members and those who are responsible for the health and safety of their loved ones from a distance.

Recently I attended an educational session with an expert panel of scientists and physicians who presented the latest evidence about what it takes to live a healthy and happy life and the benefits of a happy life.

Benefits of Happiness on Our Health

Just what are the health benefits of happiness? Here are six that were identified.

  1. Longevity – we can often increase our life expectancy when we are healthy and happy
  2. Quality of Life – many of us agree that we want — and want for our loved ones — the best possible life in our years not just more years in our lives
  3. Reduced risk of Dementia – research is showing that the healthier our lifestyle, the better our chance of avoiding onset of dementia; one statement that I especially loved from this session was the need for us to “keep our minds jogging” to stay alert and healthy as we age
  4. Improved functional reserve – the more we stimulate our brains, the more opportunity our brains will create new pathways or connections, which can delay cognitive impairment
  5. Physical benefits from social engagement – our bodies will reward us with vitality the more we are keeping engaged
  6. Physical benefits from stress reduction – the happier we are, the happier we allow ourselves to be, the greater the likelihood of positive physical well-being

Actions That Lead a Happier & Healthier Life

Family caregivers can lead lives that are both happier and healthier by implementing these actions.

  • Eat right. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we hear it all the time. Research has been pointing more and more often to the benefits of following a Mediterranean style diet that is low in saturated fats, primarily consisting of vegetables and increasing the number of servings of fish a week. It’s not necessary to go that far, but consider making a few changes in meals each day to achieve a diet that will support a happy life.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and avoid obesity. It has been shown that obesity is a major risk for multiple chronic diseases that will interfere with leading a healthy or happy life in the coming years. Challenge yourself to lose weight if you need it, control portion sizes, use non-caloric beverages and choose more vegetables. There are many sources of meal plans that can help in the achievement of weight loss goals.
  • Enjoy more berries. A variety of berries in our meals will provide flavonoids that can help in staying healthy. Add blueberries and strawberries to cereal, snacks and meals. Eat a fruit salad with dinner. They are delicious, nutritious, refreshing and can bring a smile to the face!
  • Stop smoking. Enough said.
  • Get physically active. We have heard the adage “move it or lose it” and all know that staying active will help us be healthy physically and mentally, but we just can’t seem to get committed to this idea and get off the couch. You don’t have to work out frantically, which is especially true of seniors, but should at least try adding more movement to the day by walking or enjoying other activities that require getting off the couch! Consider inter-generational activities to keep active, such as playing games with grandkids or helping kids with activities that interest them. Multi-generational interactions provide many health benefits and lead to happiness.
  • Stay mentally engaged. Research among centenarians shows that learning a language, playing a musical instrument, volunteering, participating in the events of the community and networking with others will help keep your brain fit for healthy aging. Create a social safety network if you are the type of person who doesn’t want to be part of the crowd. You can be engaged when you have a network that checks in regularly and interacts with you in some manner. Learn something new, get involved in technology and jump into social networking sites.
  • Manage stress. Many people tend to internalize their daily stress, which can be harmful. For some, stress can be motivating and cause them to create a plan of action to defeat the stressors. Others however, turn their stress inward which, can be harmful. It isn’t the amount of stress but the way it’s handled that is important.

Reason to Get Up in the Morning

Caregivers need to stay energized and enjoy their days as much as possible to be the best caregivers they can be each day.

Remember, it’s not just your senior loved ones’ lives that are important and need care, but yours as well.

We encourage you to reflect upon the actions above for improving your health and happiness. Find some ways you can make a positive impact in your day to live a happier life!

Small changes in lifestyle choices can reap big rewards for you and your senior loved ones!