It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I like to stay fit. Well, people who know me really well know that I get anxious and short-tempered and generally unpleasant if I haven’t worked up a good sweat in a few days.
I was never much of a competitive athlete, mind you – I’m not going to win any prizes. And I never have!
But exercising keeps me balanced in every way. It keeps me from feeling stiff and sore (minus the “good” sore after a workout I’ve waited too long for!), I have more patience with those I love, I am more confident (I feel slothful when I don’t exercise), I have more energy, and I have more mental focus.
Obviously, between two pregnancies and two young kids, my exercise regimen has changed greatly over the last 4 years! My strategy for the kind of exercise I want/need is always evolving as my kids grow and change, and I’m currently looking to add some more strength training, so please leave your experiences, strategies, and thoughts in the comments section!
My first rule of thumb, with the two kids, is that everything counts (this helps me, mentally, when I feel like I haven’t accomplished much in a week!). I log mileage all over using Daily Mile (the site also doubles as a social networking site, where you can connect with real-life friends and make new friends and encourage each other in running, walking, biking, or other fitness pursuits). I’ve logged mileage walking B to school, walking to parks, and even following B on his bike on the path around Bryan Park. If you don’t want to stick to the same routes all the time or upload new ones constantly, you can sync a Nike+ or a Garmin Forerunner with it.
Also, I have to remind myself that I don’t have to finish everything at once – I can stop and start and I’m still getting exercise. A walk to a park 1.5 miles away is still a 1.5-mile walk – even if we stopped for snacks, water, or to look at plants four times along the way!
I have found that my family and lifestyle require a lot of flexibility, which means keeping lots of options in mind and sometimes getting creative. Here are some ideas and factors that help me squeeze in the exercise I crave:
1) Family walks: baby carrier, stroller, dog, partner. Go! Depending on the kids’ current bed times, we have enjoyed weeknight “postprandial strolls.” (Yes, we call them that. Just an after dinner walk. Sometimes in the gloaming.) It’s still exercise if you’re walking it! And if the time of day or the description can make it romantic? All the better in the life of parents of young children! Sometimes this is a walk to a park. When B was quite young it was a walk for no purpose at all except fresh air and conversation (which, incidentally, we have been known to actually have when the kids are also enjoying some fresh air!)
2) Walk anywhere within walking distance (what is your walking distance?). I will plop both kids in a double stroller and walk my husband 1.5 miles to work and then walk back home. B loves this, as he gets to play in his dad’s office for a little while, and then I run down every hill on the way home. And I once added a mile (it’s only 20 or so minutes extra, which rivals getting two little ones in the car and driving there…) to run an errand. I also frequently walk B to parks (we have several in what I consider walking distance, as long as we have nothing else scheduled!).
3) I require a routine – I need to know when I will get my next dose of exercise! Currently, I walk B to preschool (about .5 miles away), which is two days a week. I wear A in the Ergo and take B in the jogging stroller (he can walk it, but he insists on taking “breaks” and we’re almost always running behind!), and then I put A in the jogger and we go for a 3-mile run that ends at home. Then I get another mile-long walk in later when we go pick up B! So I often get almost 5 miles of running and walking in on preschool days, which feels awesome (and I perk up seeing my little bars o’ mileage fill up on Daily Mile…).
4) Exercise in the house. I have tried many videos and used Tae Bo for awhile. You can try out several from the public library or through services like Netflix. Currently, when I really need a tough work out and I can’t get out the door, I “BodyRock.” It seems so cheesy, and some of the workouts are under 15 minutes, or even under 10! Don’t let that fool you. These workouts are tough! And there’s a new one almost every day! I haven’t gotten into the community over there, but it seems very supportive, and lots of recipes and ideas for modifying routines are shared. And did I mention these workouts are free? I haven’t purchased any sort of equipment, so I have to make up exercises or skip them at times, but I am sweaty by the end and usually quite sore the next day! I have also done partial workouts and stopped the timer to nurse the baby.
5) Have a goal for now and save some for later. My long-term goal is to finally run the half marathon I was training for when I got pregnant with B! Training for that doesn’t feel feasible with an infant. My shorter-term goal is to get back to strength training in addition to running at least 15 miles a week (3 miles, 5 days a week). Once I’ve met that goal, I’ll probably aim to be faster (I’d LOVE to crack an 11-minute mile with the stroller again…).
6) Gym with childcare = awesome. I prefer outdoor cardio, and am currently debating what method of strength training I will use (i.e. whether it will require a gym), but the gym is a great for the times I can’t exercise with the kids (rainy days, winter weekdays, etc). I would love a treadmill, but have nowhere to put it and can’t afford one.
7) My partner is on board. My first two dates with my husband were 6-mile runs. In college, he once made me go running at midnight because I was in a foul mood. I started the Couch to 5K program when A was only a few weeks old, so I went out on Saturdays and Sundays and my husband worked from home one morning a week while B was at preschool. Now, he is committed to my getting some time (alone!!!) to exercise on weekends, and I’m betting he will eventually hold down the fort for an hour or two in the mornings (once everyone is verbal and not demanding of Mom first thing!) so that I can train for that half marathon! This is a huge (HUGE) asset for anyone wanting to fit exercise in.
8 ) Social hour. I have done two sorts of social things around exercise: 1) when B was a baby, I had a friend come over and watch him while I worked out, then we would swap and I would watch our two babies while she exercised. And then we would hang out for an hour. 2) Walks and runs with friends. I’m not a big music person while I exercise (…sometimes I just put in the ear buds so no one will talk to me at the gym…) because I mostly enjoy the chance to hear myself think. But I do very much enjoy catching up with friends while we get some fresh air!
9) What are your kids capable of? We take B on hikes, and he can now do a few miles on his own two feet. He has lately been biking a half mile to a park, playing, and biking back. I attempted to run with the jogger while he biked today and it was a complete failure, so check back with me on that one! (He has no frame of reference for where he should be, how far ahead of or behind him he’s comfortable with me being, how not to crash into me, etc. It was really a disaster as far as a run – though I felt pretty awesome returning home with A in the Ergo, B in the stroller, and a tiny bike on top of the stroller canopy!)
10) Child’s play. I have never (yet?) put together or tried an official exercise-using-my-baby/child routine, but I’m sure they exist. I do, however, do things like squats holding A (and pushing him over my head making silly sounds so he’ll laugh), or throwing B up in the air until I feel fatigued. My husband has done push-ups with B on his back and a sort of V-sit with B on his legs. We have done these things completely spontaneously – they make our kids smile and laugh! And, of course, there are the endless games of tag, and playing basketball (making a hoop out of your arms that is low enough for your 2-year-old to make a basket through can turn into a good squat if you watch your posture!). It really is possible to exercise alongside your child!
I consider the whole transition-to-motherhood time to be an excellent time to get into fitness partly because it’s an excellent time to start walking (excellent exercise pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy, and postpartum!) and figure out from there what you enjoy, where you can go, and what games you can play with your baby/child through their various stages. It’s a time of great change no matter what – so it’s a great time to establish new habits, while everything is in flux anyway! (Also, when does the flux of parenthood end? When they’re 30?)
My only other piece of advice is to connect with other people who want to get or stay fit. Join a sports team, explore some social networking sites (CafeMom, Daily Mile, Facebook has some groups oriented toward health, wellness, exercise, fitness, weight loss, etc), involve your friends. Connect with people with similar goals and interests!