Are you struggling to find ways of keeping fit while raising young kids? Do you find you don’t have the time? After a busy day, are you just too exhausted to work out? When you do exercise, do you feel guilty that you are neglecting your family? Many mothers have asked me how I manage to exercise while raising a 4 and a 6 year old. It’s not been easy to find the right formula and on some days I’m still a wild mess. But I thought I should share my story as well as some of the ways I try to keep fit while raising my two kids.
When I had my first child, my goal was to spend my maternity leave getting into shape for a glorious return to work. But the reality of raising a child took me by complete surprise. I felt I was the most useless mum in the world so thoughts of getting fit were quickly put on the back burner. When I started work again, I faced a whole new reality – balancing the demands of my baby with those of my boss. I would go to work, come home for bath and story time, and then hit the computer in the evenings to stay on top of things. Fitness was just not a priority and I was okay to be unfit so long as my child and clients were happy. However, after I had my second child two years later, being unfit started to feel uncomfortable. I felt that somewhere in my quest to be super mum and employee of the year, I had started to lose myself. This is what I did and I hope it helps you too.
1 – Put Yourself on the Map. I was so good at organising home and work schedules but found I had no time to prioritise my own health and fitness. So the first thing I did was to sit down and acknowledge that something had to change. I had up until that time declared to myself and others that I didn’t have time to get fit. How would I manage it all? But once I realised things had to change, I found some quiet time and started thinking.
In that quiet moment, I realised that I could do pilates on Mondays and Wednesdays, as my mum had offered to help on Monday evenings and my husband had Wednesday afternoons off work. I then found I could run for about 30 minutes before pilates classes. Once I had made the decision to prioritise exercise, I started seeing possibilities that were always there but I had never thought of. Hannah Newman in this article states that “the first step is deciding to make your personal health a non-negotiable”. I agree. Once you do that it paves the way for the how and the when.
2 – Use the Treadmill. I much prefer running outdoors but the treadmill has been extremely useful when I’ve had no one to watch the kids. I keep the kids busy by putting out different play activities on the floor in front of the treadmill – anything from puzzles, building blocks, colouring books or even paints if I’m feeling brave!
My treadmill has a piece that falls off every 10 minutes or so depending on the vigour of my running, and the kids love putting it back into place with their wooden hammer. My bottle also doesn’t sit very well in the treadmill holder so I put the bottle on a shelf and the kids (at least at this age!) love bringing it to me when I shout for water.
3 – Get Some Home Equipment. I’ve never been much good at strength training as I often lack the desire and the motivation. But in recent weeks, I have loved using my weights and resistance bands to do workouts at home. The workouts I do are usually 15 – 20 minutes long and the best part is you don’t have to go to a gym. You have the flexibility of doing them when your child is playing or even napping. I’ve found YouTube has some amazing videos that guide you through a workout if you are more comfortable following someone’s lead and hearing an encouraging voice.
4 – Find Ways to Exercise Together. One day while stretching, my daughter said to me, “Mummy, look! I can do that.” And there she was on the floor doing her version of a push-up! So I quickly realised that me exercising and taking care of the kids didn’t have to be two separate entities. The next time I did my stretches, I got two mats out and we did it together. Both kids find squats hilarious and call them “The Toilet” and when I use dumb-bells, they grab toys and try to copy the motion. If you are feeling strong, you can do push-ups, press ups and squats with them on your back or shoulders! We started hiking with them, first in carriers but now they are able to walk on their own.
And if you need a good pace maker, put them on bicycles and follow them as they cycle! Of course, try to find an area that is free of traffic to do this. Studies have shown that “children raised in a family where an exercise routine forms a normal part of life, maintain this habit throughout their lives, to become healthier people”.
5 – Join a Gym with a Kids Club. If you want to use a gym, try to find one that has a kids club. I stay close to Virgin Active and they have a fantastic play area for kids with really good child-minders. You get your workout and the kids have great fun. It’s a win-win.
6 – Climb Those Monkey Bars. When my husband was away on a study programme for 6 weeks, I discovered the joys of working out in the park. I fell in love with the FNB Playground by the Taung Flyover as there is a walking path around the play area. I used to get a quick run done while keeping an eye on the kids and I could also do some workouts on the lawn and benches. Rachel from Running on Happy wrote this great post about workouts you can do in the playground. If you are allowed to, you can try the monkey bars or put your kid(s) on one end of the seesaw while you sit on the other end!
7 – Run a Race as a Family. After seeing me bring home medal after medal, my daughter started asking if she could also do a race. In 2017, she did her first race with me and in 2018 the whole family participated in a race. Many of our friends ran with their kids and it was such a great bonding experience for parents and children. One of my friends even ran pushing her baby in a stroller! It was so rewarding and so much fun and afterwards we enjoyed a great breakfast with the kids (and adults) proudly showing off their medals.
8 – Get Up Early. I often struggle getting up early and going for a run. But when I do, there is nothing better! The air is fresh, the legs feel lighter and I often come back invigorated and ready to take on the day. The beauty of getting up early is that you get your run or exercise done before other life priorities. I usually do this over the weekend but I have friends who have successfully incorporated morning workouts into their weekday routines. Once you get used to it, you start to enjoy those quiet moments to yourself.
9 – Ask for Help: Support is key and I’m lucky that I can balance my schedule with my husband’s. He usually works out in the mornings and I take the evenings. I also have very supportive parents who are happy to have the kids especially on our long runs. If you have friends or family nearby, don’t be scared to ask them for help. Of course some may say no but they may also say yes and look forward to a great bonding experience with your kids.
10 – Be Kind to Yourself: Once I started running, I started feeling guilty that I could be spending that time with my kids. But I could also see that quitting was not an option anymore. I was feeling so much happier and healthier and I wasn’t willing to give this up. I also started seeing that I was actually teaching my kids that exercise is a critical part of life. When I’m not exercising, the time I have with the kids is really special. I’ve became more creative, less irritable and far more patient. For a long time, I also regretted that it took me so long to get fit. I had to keep telling myself, “Yes. I could have started earlier but I didn’t and that’s okay”. The important thing is that I started and that’s all that counts.
I love this statement by Kelsey Kerridge, “…there isn’t any reason why you can’t get some exercise in during your child-raising years, it is just a matter of compromise and imagination.” I know now that it’s possible but I also know that it’s not always easy. A lot of times its trial and error and even as I write this I’m not out of the woods yet! But I hope this encourages you, particularly mothers, to start putting yourself on the map.
I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their new link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also linking up with Marc from Train With Marc and Debbie from Coach Debbie Runs for Coaches’ Corner! Hop on over to their blogs and others, and be inspired!