Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Caregiver Tip #3: Put a Little "Iron" in Your Diet

One of the most useful tips I know for caregivers is to develop and maintain physical strength. We know that it takes considerable physical strength to be a caregiver--whether it's hoisting those five-liter dialysate bags onto an IV pole overhead, balancing your partner with an unsteady gait, or simply doing more of the work of a household because your partner can't.

Strength training (weight lifting, resistance training, etc.) is one of the most effective ways to get strong and to stay strong. We naturally lose muscle mass in our thirties, and continue to lose it as we age. So If we don't build muscle--and defend the muscle we have, we will assuredly weaken.

When we're strong, we can do more things, and do them more easily. We protect ourselves from injuries by strengthening our bones and joints. Probably as important, though, is the fact that we just feel more capable when we can do more tasks without help. We "age" better!

But how does the busy caregiver find time?

I go to a great little gym in Seattle called the "X-Gym" on Vine Street. The workouts last only about twenty to thirty minutes twice a week, but the concentrated sessions really do work you out. Plus, for me, it's a pretty sure guarantee that if it's on my calendar and I've paid the money, I'm going to go. Left to my own devices, compliance could be an issue!

There are a number of DVD and Video Strength Training Programs you can do at home. And almost everything--with the exception of high level power lifting--can be accomplished with a set of dumbbells and/or resistance bands. A fitness ball (look on e-Bay) can be a great addition in the area of core strength.

Strength training is just one more way that we tell ourselves that "we're in our corner!"

Plus, I think physical strength enhances our emotional sturdiness as well!

So, get yourself to the YMCA/YWCA, buy a DVD, or arrange a few sessions with a personal trainer who can help you get strong without hurting yourself. Start slowly with small weights and work up. Listen to your body's signals. And, of course, don't exercise if you are having chest pain or other worrisome symptoms.

In the gym world, they call weight training "pumping iron." So unless you have compelling medical reasons not to, add a little "iron" to your regimen, and see how greater strength improves your life.

Take care. Linda Gromko, MD


  1. Great advice Linda. As you know, the benefits of strength training go far beyond “strength”. Lower blood pressure, lower risk of type 2 diabetes, better balance, fall risk reduction, and lower “all cause” mortality rates have been linked to maintaining muscle mass as we age (just to name a few). And if we use you as an example, strength training seems to allow one to cram 30 hours of work into a 24 hour day!

  2. Great comments, Dr. Gromko. I will add a personal recommendation that if one is not familiar with "pumping iron" sign up with a trainer first and learn how light weights, proper form and commitment to making those next 3 reps can transform, with little risk of injury.

    Dr. Gromko, you might also say something to the ladies, who may afraid they will "bulk up" if they do strength training; inform them of why such concerns are TOTALLY off base. If fact, quite the contrary...


  3. Thanks to my panel of experts! Dick and "D"! Thank you for enhancing my message. I know for both of you, this is just preaching to the choir. But I appreciate the chorus. Lindajo