One of the hardest challenges for caregivers is to maintain their own health & wellness. Billionaire 90-year-old David Murdock, who cared for his wife, says healthy living is the key to the physical stamina and mental strength to keep going as a caregiver. Read Sherri Snelling’s interview with Mr. Murdock for PBS Next Avenue.
It has long been suspected weight gain is a slippery slope to breast cancer risk. Now recent studies are not only supporting this claim but also showing weight loss – even just 10 percent of total body weight – may also help prevent breast cancer. If you are one of the 65 million Americans caring for a loved one, studies also show weight management becomes a big challenge which can put caregivers at even greater risk for developing breast cancer.
Most Americans gain only 1-2 pounds a year since college age, which doesn’t seem like anything to get too upset about until you do the math. After 30 years, when you’re in your 50s and at menopausal age and possibly caregiving for an older parent or ill spouse, this accumulated weight gain can be 30-60 pounds. Not only will this increase your Body Mass Index (BMI) but it also puts you at risk for diabetes and heart disease as well as breast cancer. Researchers have long believed weight gain – accumulation of excess body fat – can fuel estrogen levels which have been linked to breast cancer tumors in postmenopausal women.
A National Cancer Institute (NCI) study of 72,000 women found a steady weight gain over years can double the risk of breast cancer versus those women who maintained a steady weight all those years. In fact, women in the study who started with higher BMI measurements, considered at an early age to be overweight or even obese, but maintained their weight over the years, did not show the increased risk in developing breast cancer. In a separate study published earlier this year by researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, researchers found for the first time weight loss directly lowers hormones linked to breast cancer. By slowly losing weight through diet and exercise, you can lower the amount of these hormones circulating through the body, which can result in a decreased risk of developing breast cancer.
Maintaining your college weight is tough for anyone – 57 percent of the NCI study participants failed to keep their college figures. Metabolism slows, childbirth weight gains may never completely come off (just ask Jessica Simpson how tough it is) and what researchers are calling busy life syndrome takes over – fast food nutrition, lack of gym time and restless nights with fewer hours of sleep. And studies show caregivers have an even increased risk for neglecting their own health and wellness needs than the general population.
While some pounds may have crept on, Dr. Anne McTiernan who led the Fred Hutchinson study believes just 10% weight loss can have major impact and reduced breast cancer risk. Other researchers support the findings including one of the world’s leading epidemiologists, Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard University. He told ABC News, “Weight loss by postmenopausal women is one of the best ways to reduce risk of breast cancer.” Willett also mentions a study showing women who lost a moderate amount of weight had a 60 percent lower risk of breast cancer.
Both men and women throughout their lives should have a BMI measurement of 18.5 – 24.9. Here is how to calculate yours:
- Take your weight
- Divide it by your height in inches
- Divide this new number by your height in inches again (yes, a second time)
- Multiply the new number x 703
Prescription for Healthy Weight – 5 Things Caregivers Can Do to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk
1. Get your shuteye.
In a National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) study, 87 percent of caregivers felt they didn’t get enough sleep and cited insomnia as a side effect of caregiving. Most experts advise at least 7-8 hours of restorative, uninterrupted sleep. One Australian research study found less than 5 hours of sleep a night can be equal to .05 blood alcohol level and another study found just 5.5 hours or less of sleep a night can translate into a 12-pound weight gain over 1 year.
2. Cut back on cookies and turn to healthy snacks.
Because our metabolism slows as we age, most experts agree you should decrease the amount of calories you eat by 10 percent every decade. You can also increase your intake of super foods to give you energy and which are loaded with anti-oxidant cancer-fighting ingredients. WebMD encourages you to swap out crackers for almonds, replace red meat with salmon, eat more blueberries than blueberry muffins and 2 oz. of chocolate a day is okay – as long as its 70 percent cocoa – it will decrease your cholesterol levels by 10 percent!
3. Get physical.
According to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, regular exercise reduces your breast cancer risk by 10 to 20 percent. An added benefit is physical activity boosts the body’s immune system which can help slow or kill the growth of cancer cells. Take the stairs at work, walk around the block in the morning or at night – just 30 minutes a day – which can be broken down into three 10-minute cardio, heart-pumping sessions – will do.
4. Sobriety Test.
A NAC study found 10 percent of caregivers use alcohol to cope with their stress but drinking more than 1 glass of alcohol per day increases your breast cancer risk by 7 percent. If you have 2-3 glasses of alcohol per day, your risk increases by 20 percent according to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Stress is the No. 1 complaint for caregivers. But stress releases a hormone called cortisol which can lead to belly fat. Finding ways to de-stress whether it’s meditation, breathing exercises, yoga or finding outlets to let off steam such as support groups or just a friend who will let you vent will keep you healthier in body, mind and spirit so you can continue to care for your loved one and for yourself.
Photo credits: All Dreamstime contributors: Pixelbrat, Maxexphoto, Valua Vitaly, Nress, Blasbike, SlavenkoVukasovic
When it comes to caregiving, staying fit so that you have the energy to care for your loved one is like training for an Olympic marathon not a sprint. Even though your caregiving race may begin with a crisis event, very often it lasts far longer than you may anticipate – not days but weeks, months, years. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, caregivers spend on average 4.6 years caring for a loved one with 15 percent spending more than 10 years. A world-class runner who can finish the 100-yard dash in 9.1 seconds cannot keep up that pace for 26 miles – it is simply impossible.
Although caregiving may leave you exhausted and without any time to get to the gym or exercise on your own, you have to find ways to get some type of physical exercise into your daily and weekly routine. Ask a friend or neighbor to give you a break or create an online community where friends and family volunteers can help lighten your load so you can squeeze in some “fitness time.” Staying physically fit actually gives you more energy for caregiving and finding these minutes for your body health improves your mental health as well. It is a 1-2 punch that will help you banish the burn-out and stress that so many caregivers face.
Taking our cue from the 2012 Olympic athletes, here are 5 ways you can “train” for just a few minutes a day so that you have the energy to keep going as a caregiver:
Stretch – Offering a whole host of physical benefits such as improving your flexibility, circulation, alleviating lower back pain and lowering your blood pressure, stretching also helps your balance and coordination. Make sure you go slow and don’t overdo it – there is no gain in pain. Check out The Stretching Handbook for ways to adopt 10 minutes of safe, easy stretches into your daily routine and watch Team USA Dawn Harper “stretch” for her second gold medal in the 100mm hurdles.
Lift – You don’t have to be able to lift as much as Team USA weightlifter Sara Robles to help build strong bones and muscles. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, every year we lose 1 percent of our bone and muscle mass. Lifting light weights (2-5 pounds) will not only help prevent osteoporosis as you age but also boosts your energy levels and improves your mood. If you don’t own weights or have a gym membership, you can lift soup cans or do isometric exercises like lunges and squats in your own living room.
Core Strength/Dance – The U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team is expected to take team gold at the London Olympic Games – and core strength is what they are all about. One of my favorite gymnastics events is floor exercise because it combines dance with strength and balance. Dancing makes you strive to achieve full range of motion for all the major muscle groups, it improves strength by forcing the muscles to resist against a dancer’s own body weight, it increases your endurance because your muscles have to work hard for increasingly longer periods of time without fatigue, and it elevates the heart rate which increases stamina. You can dance solo at home to music or take a class at a gym or community center. The latest craze is called Zumba – a Latin-inspired dance “fitness party” that encourages you to be social as well as get physical. Studies have shown that strong social ties and socializing with friends contribute to high self-esteem and a better sense of well-being.
Swim – Hydro-exercise requires a pool but it can be an extremely effective way of exercising that tones your whole body. It is a low impact way to move all your major muscles where the buoyancy of the water helps you avoid stress and strain on joints and limbs. The water also helps you improve your balance. Just close your eyes and think of being in the pool next to 2012 Olympic Gold Medal winner Ryan Lochte – hand me my bathing suit!
Breathe/Focus/Relax – There are many things which set Olympians apart from the rest of us and one of those things is their ability to focus, relax and create calm around them to go for the gold. This is not an easy task but one that can be mastered by anyone. Meditation research pioneer Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of the Mind/Body Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and author of The Relaxation Response, prescribes doing the following twice daily:
- Choose a word, sound, short phrase or prayer that you repeat continuously for 10-20 minutes.
- Sit still and comfortably.
- Close your eyes and relax your muscles.
- Focus your attention on your breathing, simply observing the in-and-out breaths.
- Begin repeating your word.
- As other thoughts may enter your stress-filled mind, don’t force them away or become annoyed, simply, gently ignore them and continue your repetitive word or phrase.
What Dr. Benson found is that this simple exercise when done daily can help with a host of health issues including fatigue, hypertension, asthma, constipation, infertility, insomnia, rheumatoid arthritis, chest pain, allergies, allergic skin reactions and more. You should notice improvement in your health and stress levels in less than one month.
When it comes to caregiving, by adopting some Olympic fitness habits into your routine, you too can be a winner.
Originally published on Next Avenue by Sherri Snelling
They say lightning never strikes twice in the same place yet this is exactly what happened to Alan Osmond and his son David Osmond of the famous entertainment family. This lightning came in two forms: great musical and performing talent as well as a gift for songwriting but also something less glamorous: a diagnosis of the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis (MS).
Growing up Osmond means you know how to be at the pinnacle of the entertainment world – you sing, you dance and no matter what the show must go on. This was no problem for David Osmond, one of eight sons born to Alan, the oldest of the famous Osmond Brothers who shot to fame along with Donny, Merrill, Wayne and Jay in the 1960s-70s (Marie and Jimmy came later). As a torchbearer for the Osmond dynasty, David, age 32, has a successful solo career, still performs as the lead singer for the Osmonds – Second Generation, is hosting a new TV music competition reality series and participated in the eighth season of American Idol.
But, imagine if one day you woke up and found you could not walk, you could not hold a guitar, you could not sing because the pain in your chest and paralysis in your body reached from your toes to your diaphragm making it hard to breathe. This was what David Osmond faced in 2005 when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and went from a promising entertainment career into a wheelchair. Remarkably, it was the same diagnosis his father, Alan, had been given almost 20 years earlier when he was in his late 30s. What makes this story so inspiring is that for the Osmond family, whose longevity in show business is legendary, both Alan and David are not only living with MS today, they are actually thriving.
Multiple sclerosis, which affects 2.5 million people worldwide, is an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system and for which there is no cure. Essentially, scars and lesions cause interference with the transmission of signals to the brain and spinal cord that then cause the unpredictable and often debilitating symptoms that MS patients experience such as numbness, tingling and searing pain in the extremities, periods of partial or full blindness, loss of sensory function such as taste or smell and even full paralysis.
While researchers feel there may be genetic predictors for MS (the National Multiple Sclerosis Society states that siblings or children of those with MS have a 1 in 40 risk of also having MS), there is no clear connection that one generation passes it to another. What Alan did pass to his son David is a “can do” rather than a “can’t do” attitude towards living with MS.
“When I originally received the diagnosis, I had tested positive for West Nile Virus but some of the symptoms did not match up so they tested for MS and found I had the relapsing/remitting form of this disease which my doctors believe may have been dormant in my system but was triggered by the virus,” says David. “I was in complete denial – I had grown up watching my dad battle MS and my symptoms were not really the same so I just could not believe it.”
There are four variations on the aggressiveness and progression of MS disease, Alan’s was the primary progressive type, a diagnosis only 15 percent of all MS patients receive. With primary progressive there are no flare-ups or periods of remission such as with David’s type of MS – which means for Alan it is supposed to be a slow degeneration of the body’s functions.
Originally, David’s devastation took on the typical reaction people have when faced with a difficult diagnosis: “Why me?” He relates how one day while in a wheelchair he watched his brother playing on the floor with his kids and wondered to himself, “Will I ever have that?” You can hear the emotion in his voice as he continues, “I’m almost embarrassed to admit that is how I felt because when I looked from my brother and nieces and nephews to my dad and realized, here is this man who has lived with this disease for 20 years and he has never complained, I realized life can go on and you can find ways around this disease just like my dad did.”
“I have a motto I live by – you have to be TUFF,” says Alan. “It stands for: Target what you need to do; Understand everything you can about the challenge in front of you; Focus on how to live with or beat that challenge; Fight, Fight, Fight – you have to have the drive and desire to keep living and keep fighting for yourself and those around you.”
Family and Faith
Osmond father and son tackled MS the same way they approach the music business – all out or as Alan says “I may have MS but MS does not have me.”
“I was given a cortisone shot when I was first diagnosed in 1987,” says Alan, “and it just about killed me. It was right then that I decided there has to be a better way and I started investigating alternative medicine that would not have the side effects of traditional drugs.”
Both Osmonds have found ways to deal with MS and overcome many obstacles and the dire prognosis of their physicians. David was able to get up and out of his wheelchair with powerful steroid shots that helped him walk down the aisle with his beautiful bride, Valerie, a few years ago. “I proposed to her from my wheelchair and she said, ‘Yes!’ so being able to walk down the aisle with her was something I just knew I had to do.” He has not been back in his wheelchair since and the couple now has two beautiful daughters, ages one and three.
Father and son embrace all-natural homeopathic remedies and David takes up to 50 all-natural supplements a day while Alan adds a daily dose of 2,000-5,000 IUs of Vitamin D; they believe in using essential oils, such as Frankincense, for aromatherapy and they follow a healthy diet based on gluten-free (wheat-based products) and casein-free (milk protein) foods with limited meat and other proteins. The strict adherence to an all-natural diet which Alan blends into most of his meals has helped manage his MS symptoms and helped him lose 30 pounds. Alan also enjoys hydro-exercise – the buoyancy of the water not only takes the pressure off of sometimes painful joints but also helps with balance while practicing movements. In addition, both Alan and David avoid stimulants such as cigarettes, coffee or caffeinated sodas, which is part of their Church of Latter Day Saints faith, and they believe in the power of prayer and positive thinking. If there is an Osmond prescription for helping to tame the symptoms of MS it is simply “family and faith.”
In fact, both Alan and David credit their wives, Suzanne and Valerie respectively, with the kind of unconditional love so essential in a spouse when someone is facing a chronic illness. According to the National Health Institute Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, 75 percent of marriages among those couples dealing with a chronic illness end in divorce – 50 percent higher than the overall national divorce rate.
“There is a good side to every challenge in life,” says David. “Sometimes dealing with something like multiple sclerosis can make your marriage better, I know both my wife and I have learned more patience with each other through this journey and I absolutely would not be where I am at today in conquering MS without her.”
Alan agrees that it was Suzanne who helped him seek the alternative remedies which have him defying all the odds with his prognosis. All doctor predictions and prognosis pointed to Alan being in a wheelchair by now but instead Alan travels with Suzanne and is walking only occasionally using a leg brace or cart when he has to walk long distances. Alan says, “It is not just one person who gets MS, it is the whole family.” That is one of the reasons why Alan created his Web site, TheFamily, which addresses family issues around chronic illness and other life lessons.
Alan and David admit that they have learned a lot from each other through this journey with MS. David says his dad has taught him to never feel sorry for himself, to embrace both the blessings and burdens in life with a positive attitude and to help as many people as you can with whatever you can. Alan believes David has taught him what patience and perseverance are all about.
“I know it’s crazy to say, but it is actually a great time to have MS,” says David. When his father was diagnosed more than 25 years ago, there were not a lot of options but today David, who sits on the board of the Nancy Davis Foundation for MS and attends her annual conferences for the foundation’s Center Without Walls says, “There are eight drugs on the market and several more being approved by the FDA as we speak. The numerous choices we now have to attack this disease that is attacking our bodies – especially with the education about alternative, all-natural choices that I have made for my lifestyle – are encouraging. I truly think we are going to lick this disease and the great research minds agree – they believe MS is one of the chronic illnesses that I may see a cure for in my lifetime.” (See more with David and other celebrities from the Nancy Davis Foundation for MS Race to Erase MS Event).
When I asked both Alan and David what are their private passions – both responded almost simultaneously with “spending time with family.” While David enjoys sports like skiing even though his balance and agility are not what they used to be because of the MS, and Alan loves to continually learn new things and brainstorm on ideas – like teaching himself html code so he can build web sites – both men are happiest when surrounded by family.
As we wind up the interview, David is eager to get back to playing Legos and watching Disney movies with his two young daughters – a scene he was not sure he would have just a few years ago. He says he wears a ring on his right hand that is engraved with ETTE – Endure To The End. He says he has had the ring since before his MS diagnosis, so today he adds, “Endure to the end …of the day.” With his girls calling for daddy from the other room, we say our “so longs” and I wish Alan happy birthday (June 22) and both men a happy Father’s Day. I laugh as I later see a tweet from David – it says simply, “Going to make tshirts for my girls that say ‘Having MS gets on my dad’s nerves.’”
Sherri Snelling is writing a book on celebrity caregivers, A Cast of Caregivers, and the lessons of love and caring that will be published by Balboa Press, a division of Hay House Publishers in January, 2013.