Simple Ways Caregivers Can Stay Active

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on November 18, 2021

You’re busy all day helping your loved one with doctor visits, treatments, chores, and paperwork. So when exactly is there time for you to exercise?

When caregiving leaves barely enough time for the essentials, it’s hard to tend to your own needs. But you won’t be able to care for anyone very well if you don’t take care of yourself.

Exercise keeps stress in check, gives you more energy, helps you sleep better, and improves your mood and health. And that’s on top of all the physical benefits.

You’ll need cardio, strength training, and stretching. And some creative ways to work it all in -- now, more than ever.

How Much Cardio Do I Need?

Cardio is aerobic activity -- anything that gets your heart rate up. Each week, shoot for one of these:

  • 150 minutes of medium-intensity cardio, like brisk walking. You can split that into 30 minutes, 5 times a week.
  • Or you can do 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of high-intensity cardio, like running.
  • Or go for a mix of medium- and high-intensity cardio.

Break it down. You don’t have to do it all at once. You can do three 10-minute sessions instead of 30 minutes straight, for instance. Just make sure to work for that whole 10 minutes.

If it still sounds like too much, aim to get 30 minutes in for just 3 days a week, then work your way up to 5 days.

What counts? The goal is to get your heartbeat up and your breathing going. From a stationary bike to dancing, it doesn’t really matter how you do that. Choose what you enjoy, so you’re more likely to stick with it.

With medium-intensity cardio, your pulse is up and you sweat a little -- you want to be able to talk while you’re active, but not sing. For that, you can try:

  • Riding a bike
  • Walking at a good clip
  • Water aerobics

With more intense cardio, you can’t say more than a few words without catching your breath, as with:

  • Basketball
  • Running
  • Swimming


Strength Training

At least 2 days a week, spend some time working your major muscles: arms, back, chest, core, hips, legs, and shoulders. Reps are the key here. For example, with situps, do 8-12 at a time. Each one is a rep, and those 8-12 reps are a set. If you can do 2-3 sets, even better. Try to push yourself to where you can barely do another rep.

You can do different muscles on different days or hit them all on the same day. Just give yourself a day off before working the same muscles again.

You can build muscle with:

  • Body weight, such as pushups and situps
  • Intense yardwork, like shoveling
  • Weightlifting
  • Yoga

Fit it in where you can. If nothing else, do pushups while the coffee’s brewing or situps while waiting for toast. Little habits make a big difference.


Ideally, you’d work at least 10 minutes of stretching into every day. If you do longer workouts, leave 5-10 minutes for stretching after you’ve warmed up (never stretch before then) and when you’re done. Some workouts, like yoga, build stretches right in. Don’t stretch too far -- stay within your limits. You don’t want to go too far and get injured.

Get Started

There are three keys to get your exercise in:

  1. Choose simple goals. Don’t set the bar too high -- the important thing is to get going with it.
  2. Know your options. When you have different activities to choose from, it keeps you from getting bored and gives you choices for different situations.
  3. Set a schedule. If you make it part of your day, you’re more likely to do it. That could mean that someone covers for you while you exercise. Or you work out while your loved one naps. Or you run in place while the pasta boils. Whatever it takes, just make it routine.


How to Work Fitness Into Your Day

A big part of this is finding lots of little windows to be more active. Try these tips to fit your workout into your daily life:

Exercise together. You may be able to walk or do other exercises with the person you care for. Chair exercises are a good, simple option, where you do simple stretches like knee lifts and shoulder circles while seated.

Use peer pressure to your advantage. Find an exercise buddy, such as a friend or family member, to exercise with. They can help you stick to a schedule.

Hop on your bike. If you can bike to errands instead of driving, you get a two-for-one. You finish your errands and get a good workout in. Or if that’s not practical, try to walk more on your errands, even if it’s across the parking lot, up or down a set of stairs, or around the store.

Make your chores count. Turn up the music and step up your chores like vacuuming or yardwork. They’re physical activity, too.

Take short walks. Even if just around the yard or the block, 10 minutes a few times a day adds up. Plus, it’s simple and free.

Use technology. You can do yoga or work out at home with an online class. You can also use an app on your tablet or smartphone. Some will even customize a schedule for you based on the type of exercises you need, how many days a week you exercise, and how long you want to work out for.

Walk the talk. Got a lot of caregiver calls to make? Move while you make them. Now that’s multitasking that helps you and your loved one.

Show Sources


Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation: “Fitting in Fitness -- For Caregivers.”

NIH, National Institute on Aging: “Caregivers and Exercise -- Take Time for Yourself.”

Family Caregiver Alliance: “Exercise for Caregiver Health and Well-being.”

CDC: “How much physical activity do adults need?” “What’s the Best Exercise Plan for Me?”

American Heart Association: “Top 10 Caregiver Tips for Staying Healthy and Active,” “No time for exercise? Try our Top 10 Tips to get more!”

Alzheimer’s Association: “Being a Healthy Caregiver.”

Muscular Dystrophy Association: “Caregiver Exercises.”

Help for Cancer Caregivers: “Getting Exercise.”

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