A few months ago, someone saw me running my kids to school in the stroller and said,”I can’t believe you’re still exercising. I gave that up once I had kids.” I wanted to say, “Oh really, did you stop breathing too?”
This person unfortunately seems to be not an outlier, but the norm. According to a 2010 Gallup study, among Americans aged 18-50, those with children at home are less likely to report frequent exercise than their childless peers. And parents who have a child younger than four report lower levels of frequent exercise (24.5%) than their fellow parents with older kids (25.7%). Not surprisingly, parents are also slightly more likely than those without children to be overweight or obese.
Here’s the thing: without a doubt, becoming a parent (or starting anything else that requires a ton of time and energy) puts constraints on when and for how long you can work out. It’s damn hard to fit it in some days. But my (admittedly harsh) point-of-view is that people who don’t exercise when they have kids (but still claim they want to) haven’t stopped because of the kids themselves; they’ve quit because they have consciously or unconsciously decided that workouts are no longer a priority in their life. I should note here that there’s a whole separate group of people who never made exercise a priority pre-kids, and therefore face the challenge of starting a new habit in a very busy phase of life (this post is targeted more to group #1).
My message here is for the parents out there who aren’t exercising, but WANT to be. It IS possible. And worth it…after all, shouldn’t taking care of ourselves be at the top of the list once we have kids — maybe even higher than it was before? Being good to our bodies gives us the energy to play with our sweet little rugrats and improves our odds of living to see them grow up. Choosing a workout over morning TV sets a good example, making cycling or swimming or yoga seem cooler than Dora the Explorer. And moreover, exercise is a way to get time on your own or with loved ones to rejuvenate and release stress and re-connect.
So if you have kids, are thinking about having them, or have a loved one who has them — and you’d like to keep exercise in your life — here are a few simple ideas to keep in mind.
- Find something you love to do. Similar to the way Sheryl Sandberg argues that it’s important for people to find a career they’d want to return to after having kids, I think it’s important for people to find a workout (or ideally lots of kinds of exercise) they love before having kids. After all, it’s a lot easier to continue a habit than it is to try to create a new one…especially in the whole new world of parenting.
- Create ways to exercise as a family. Workouts don’t have to mean time away from kids. Two ways we integrate our kids into our exercise time are 1) running with stroller + bike, and 2) going to the track to run intervals while our kids play in the grassy area in the middle.
- Do a Saturday morning handoff. Sometimes I’ll go to yoga early in the morning while my husband hangs out with the kids. He’ll then bring the kids to the studio, I climb into the driver’s seat and he heads into the yoga studio for his class. This is a popular one for parents who have the luxury of a partner with whom to share parenting duties.
- Try a pre-dawn workout. Yes, it’s painful, but it’s possible. And it’s a surefire way to get a workout in while the munchkins are still deep in sleep.
- Integrate exercise into your everyday. Exercise doesn’t have to leave you a sweaty mess. Sometimes the most effective way to work it in is to try smaller increments during the day. Walk to the park instead of driving…bike to work…dance after breakfast…stretch before bed. Make exercise a lifestyle rather than an event.
I love my family more than anything in the world, but I also know what I need to do to be a great mom and partner. And for me, getting a regular workout is and always has been a non-negotiable. And my kids are more than alright.
How about you? If you have kids — or a thriving hobby or anything else that takes a disproportionate amount of time — how do you fit in workouts? Do you like to work out with your family, or is it your precious solo/grown-up time? And if you’re not fitting it in, but want to, what small changes can you make to make room?