Kathy Salmon-Farstad has been my personal training client for almost a year now. Over the course of the past several months we have talked through many things: fluctuating energy levels, holiday workout plans, goal setting, and overcoming Kathy's personal barriers to exercise.
For Kathy, motivation has rarely been an issue. As an ex-Olympian she knows what is required of an effective health and fitness regime. For those of you who have been following Kathy's inspiring transition, you know that she has effectively reduced her busy work schedule, addressed many of her nutrition weaknesses, and learned once again how to prioritize regular exercise. Even in the best of times this hasn't been easy, especially when you consider that she also has three active children who need her time and attention. How do you effectively fit in fitness when life seems overflowing with demands of childcare? Whether you have a new baby, young children or teens, there is a way! It's not really about the exercises you choose, it's about creating a successful plan for fitting exercise into your schedule.
Since I'm not a mom, I asked my twin sister Christine (who has a 7-month-old girl) and Kathy (who has an eight-year-old daughter and 6-year-old twin boys), to share their realistic tips for getting and staying active while parenting.
7 ways to fit fitness into your life
1. Be change sensitive (and I'm not talking diapers)
Your life changed the moment you had kids, so plan to approach your exercise plan differently as well. You may not be able to fit in as much activity as you did pre-kids, but that doesn't mean you should do nothing. Whether you're getting back in shape after your first baby, or starting back at it after the last one has started kindergarten, the demands of parenting are ongoing, and you need to take care of yourself through it. Your exercise plan should grow with your kids. As their independence increases, so too will your free time. Plug away at what you CAN do, and gradually add to your regime as time becomes available.
2. Choose your focus
Quality time with kids won't happen during your workout, and quality workouts won't happen with your kids. Kathy tells me that if she plans her workouts to involve her children she knows she won't work as hard, but the trade-off is some fun with the kids. While she enjoys these occasional "family fitness outings," for the most part Kathy chooses to work out on her own so she can get more bang for her buck.
Page 1 of 2 – Hey, moms: It's good to do something entirely for yourselves. Still feeling guilty? See Tip 3 on page 2.
3. Honour time with your kids
Kathy has come to learn that her at-home workouts are compromised when her kids need or want her attention. She finds that if she is able to schedule quality time with her kids before her workouts, they are far more open to negotiating "let mom exercise'" time. Which leads to tip 4…
4. Be time aware
Just like the rest of us, children of every age operate on schedules. Babies eat, sleep, and cry with remarkable regularity throughout the day. Older kids have highs and lows of independence and neediness as well. You know (or you're learning) when your kids need you most. Give them that time and schedule your exercise during times when they're more independent.
5. Know your own highs and lows
As a new mom, my sister is learning that she has to capitalize on her energy when it's high. She knows that early morning is her best exercise time, because by the end of the day (even though her partner is able to step in and help out), she's just too tired to do her workout.
6. Tag-team with your partner or friends.
Focused exercise is most effective for improving your level of fitness. Allow yourself 100% "me'" time at the gym, out walking/running, or with your favorite exercise video. Schedule times when your partner can take over childcare so you can hit the gym. Share babysitting swaps with one or two other moms on the block, and get to your favourite class. Ask grandma to keep an eye on junior while you run around the block.
7. Do shorter workouts
A few weeks ago my sister Christine was lamenting that she hasn't found the time to do her yoga video since her daughter was born. I reminded her that doing short intervals of exercise is better than doing nothing at all. Eventually the available time will increase and you won't be starting at ground zero.
Any of the Whole Life Makeover exercises can be effective with fewer sets interspersed throughout the day. A short walk is better than no walk. Creating a habit around exercise is the first most important step.
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Michelle Cederberg is a longtime fitness instructor, teacher, personal trainer and public speaker. Cederberg has a master's in kinesiology from the University of Calgary and specializes in exercise-and-functional fitness and exercise-and-health psychology.