Before having children I always enjoyed exercise, and I had the luxury of dedicating an hour or two to fitness most days of the week. I loved going to the gym and attending the latest kickboxing, abs, yoga, or spin class, along with time for the weight room. I also enjoyed long bike rides, runs, and swims on the weekend. These days, my workouts look very different, with 4 young boys running around after me!
I have tried gym daycare for years with different gyms and various caretakers, and it's always been a struggle for me. When my boys were babies they would often cry when left with the gym babysitters. This resulted in my working out while constantly looking over my shoulder wondering when they will come get me next. It just wasn't relaxing or enjoyable to work out with a "nervous twitch."
The New York Times published an article "Rethinking Exercise as a Source of Immediate Rewards," that really hit home on many fundamentals on how I make time for fitness with 4 young boys. I love having a big family, but there are some important factors that make fitness with children possible.
It's always a work in progress, but here are 4 key elements that make it work for me today.
1. Snacksize Exercise
View exercise as something that can come in snack size (Brody, 2015). I've always been a big fan of snacking, and at this stage of life with 4 young children, in a very busy house, setting aside a straight hour for fitness is unrealistic. I carve our short periods each day for exercise, knowing there will be challenges within that time period that will inevitably shorten it. 10-20 minutes is better than nothing, and I truly believe every minute counts!
2. Spoil Yourself with Consistency
Consistency, consistency, consistency. Carve out a block of time for fitness every day knowing it may not always happen as planned. For me I have the most success in the mornings. With summer break, we have breakfast, get ready for the day, and then I dedicate 30 minutes for working out and accomplish what I can, knowing there will be hurdles.
3. Start Prepared
Be prepared for challenges. When you have small children, there are quite a few things that can come up, but once you start preparing for them, they do not have to completely stop your workout. Common needs that happen in our house include boo boos, potty breaks, snack requests, fights, tantrums, the list goes on, but having items close by and knowing there will be interruptions makes a big difference in how you feel when they happen.
4. Select a Workout Plan
I feel it's critical to have a plan for your fitness time, but it's helpful to have a few choices for workouts that you can select from based on how you are feeling that day, as well as how your children are feeling. My energy level and the mood of my house play a big role in which workout I will complete. This makes exercise more enjoyable and doable.
Parenthood requires energy, strength, patience, and endurance with the numerous daily demands of lifting, carrying, loading, unloading, pulling, and pushing of children and their gear. These daily parenting demands should count in our exercise time!
Just recently, I took my boys to a park, along with their scooters, a balance bike, a stroller, water bottles, and snacks. After walking around the park area while my boys road alongside me, we stopped in a shaded area for me to squeeze in a workout. Gavin, my youngest started to get tired. Once it was time to walk again, he insisted on being carried. It was still going to take a considerable effort to get everyone home with all of the gear we had with us. I put Gavin in the stroller filled with water bottles and snacks below, placed the bike and helmet on top of the stroller, and we made our way back home. As crazy as this balancing act scenario was, I reminded myself that this definitely counted as part of my workout time. Right then, I was getting some great training in to build my strength and endurance for parenthood!
Being a parent is a gift, and I strive to be a parent who can take care of my children and still make time for taking care of myself.
These are just some of the main areas that make fitness possible for me today with young children tagging along. It's never easy, but like everything else, the more you do it, the better you get at it!
Jennifer Gelman, PhD, is a HealthyWomen #BeHealthiHer Ambassador. She is a mother to four boys, and a certified Trainer with the American Council on Exercise with specialties in Pre and Post Natal exercise, TRX, Yoga, and Fitness Nutrition. Follow her on Instagram at @bwmcfitness.