If you are caring for a loved one living with chronic illness or disability, you likely don’t have a lot of free time on your hands. And when you do have time to spare, you would probably rather relax than exercise.

But a recent study shows that exercising may have more benefits. Findings revealed that people who care for a loved one and exercise at least three times a week for six months reduced stress and even appeared to lengthen a small section of their chromosomes believed to slow cellular aging.

Exercise Is Proven to Relieve Stress in Family Caregivers

"I am hoping that a new focus on the family caregiver will emerge out of this research," said Eli Puterman in a press release. Puterman is a professor in the University of British Columbia's school of kinesiology and lead author of the study.

"We need to design interventions that help caregivers take care of their bodies and their minds, and provide the type of support that's needed to maintain that long-term."

The study followed 68 people who are caring for a family member living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. All 68 people reported having very little physical activity and high levels of stress at the beginning of the study. They were divided into two groups, with one group starting 40 minutes of aerobic exercise three to five times per week and the other group continuing with no physical activity.

By the end of the study, the benefits of exercise were clear. The exercise group had better cardiovascular fitness, reduced their body mass index, lost inches from their waists and reported feeling less stressed.

You too can see these benefits with simple, small lifestyle changes. Try the advice below to get going.

Start small. A good amount of research shows that 30 minutes of exercise gives you the most benefit for disease prevention, but even five to ten minutes can be a good start. Set aside small pieces of time to start exercising, and work on moving your schedule around to get up to 30 minutes.

Make it work where you are. You don’t have to have a gym membership or go running on long trails to build strength and cardio capacity. There are many free fitness videos you can follow along with online. Or, doing a circuit of bodyweight exercises quickly can be a great workout. Try mixing in 30 seconds each of body weight squats, jumping jacks, push-ups, walking lunges, sit-ups and tricep dips on a chair in your kitchen. Do as many rounds as you can within the time you have set aside. The faster you go, the better the benefit to your heart will be (as long as you don’t sacrifice doing the exercise correctly, which can lead to injury.)

Exercise for the health benefits. People often choose to exercise for weight loss, but as a caregiver, benefits such as stress relief, better sleep and increased energy can be equally as important to your role and your health.

Commit to yourself. You already know you can commit to actions because of your commitment to the care you’re providing your loved one. Continue that dedication through to your own health and well-being. If nothing else, a healthier you can provide better care.

What small changes are you making to take care of yourself? Let us know in the comments below.