5 Simple Steps to Help Parents Keep Their Exercise Plan in 2019
Happy New Year, Moms and Dads! It’s a new year, and with that comes a fresh start! And let me guess, number 1 on the agenda is more exercise? According to a YouGov poll, exercising more is the most common New Year’s Resolution for 2019. And with good reason: Movement or exercise can improve mood, decrease stress, improve sleep, alleviate some minor aches and pains, decrease blood pressure and cholesterol, just to name a few of the long list of physical and mental benefits! So, if this is such a common goal, and a goal we all understand is best for a long and healthy life, than why do most of us struggle to maintain it?
Well, for one, when we set goals, we often forget to fully take into account some real day-to-day issues. It’s not long before these obstacles become glaringly obvious (like when getting out of your warm bed half an hour early for a jog on a frigid February morning all of a sudden isn’t sounding like the fabulous “alone time” you told yourself it would be), we decide we are just never going to be that mom/dad and give up all together. Another common mistake is to mischaracterize what success looks like. If your idea of success is generally placed on aesthetics (flat tummy, toned arms, reaching that ever-elusive “goal” weight) you may be missing the mark. In a busy life where so much of your focus is placed on family and work, a six-pack tummy tends not to rank that high on the list of Important-Stuff-To-Get-Done, and we abandon the workout routine all together, rather than readjusting our goals. To avoid these pitfalls, follow these simple steps to set yourself up for success in 2019.
1) Reflection. Spend some time reflecting on what has held you back in the past, and what might hold you back in the future. Chances are there are obstacles that you’re not giving full consideration. Maybe you have small children and it’s been really difficult to leave them for an hour to hit the gym. Maybe you find the gym intimidating and dread going. Maybe you’ve been choosing exercises that you simply don’t enjoy! Whatever your personal obstacles are, it is vital that you recognize and accept them before preparing a plan. I’ll talk more about this later, but remind yourself that you can find ways to add movement into your day that don’t have to include a treadmill or gym class if that’s not your thing, or if that routine just won’t fit into your life. Speaking for myself, I was something of a gym rat in my life B.C. (Before Children). It took me a long time, and a lot of beating myself up, before I came to terms with the fact that I was trying to cram my old workout routines into my new lifestyle with kids. I had to come to terms with the fact that this just WASN'T GOING TO WORK FOR ME ANYMORE. When I finally accepted this fact, I was able to begin to realistically incorporate more exercise into my day.
2) Evaluate current habits and routines; Incorporate them into your fitness plan where you can. A sustainable and healthy exercise plan is as much about what you are not doing as it is about what you are. We are all so busy these days, that to add time for fitness, we have to think about what activity we are going to borrow time from to get it done. Start with the ones you feel are having the least positive impact on your day. For example, instead of saying “I’m going to jog one mile, first thing, every Saturday” think about changing that to “I will replace one hour of morning TV viewing with a jog most Saturdays” or “I will walk to and from the deli for my breakfast most weekend mornings, rather than drive”. It both carves out time from your current routine, and replaces a less healthy activity (sitting on the couch, driving) with one that will actively improve your health. Making small adjustments to your already established routines is one of the easiest ways to set yourself up for long-term success. I also added the word “most” to both statements for an important reason: you have to allow yourself room for adjustments without deeming yourself a failure. Kids get sick, you get sick, family obligations… the list goes on. Just keep in mind, if “most” is becoming more like “rarely”, it may be time to readjust your plan.
3) Reshape your idea of success. Often times we decide that fitness success is measured by looking a certain way. “I will lose 5 inches around my waist in 6 months”. “I will have definition in my arms by summer”. Sure, these are all nice things to hope for, and over time they may come. But rarely are these true measures of fitness and health, and even more rarely are they true driving forces to continue a fitness plan when you have other real-life issues or activities to attend to. If your daughter is pitching in her softball game at the same time as that 5PM Ab-Carving class, of course you’re not going to that class! Ask yourself what you truly hope to achieve by exercising more. Chances are the answers sound more like “to keep my heart strong so I can live a long life with my children” than “so I look good in a bathing suit”. When you keep in mind the true reasons for staying healthy, you will realize that even if you didn’t lose those fill-in-the-blank pounds after months working out, you feel better, look better and have more energy. THAT is how you measure true success and stay motivated.
4) Include non-traditional exercise in your plan. Taking the stairs, walking the dog, cleaning the bathroom... these activities are all forms of movement, and can contribute to your fitness plan. Exercise does not need to be done in the traditional sense for it to improve your health and overall well-being. If your life is currently too hectic to follow a regular exercise routine, you can still find ways to incorporate movement into your day in a more realistic way. Be careful to avoid the “go hard or go home” mentality we often apply to exercise. Think about where you are now in your physical activity level (remember to include any non-traditional exercise) and brainstorm what you can add to increase that incrementally. Are there small changes you could make to add a bit more movement to your day? Exercise DOES NOT have to happen inside of a gym to count! Exercise is as much about time to clear your mind as it is about getting your blood flowing, so choose activities that your truly enjoy. As I mentioned, going to the gym is just not an activity that I can, or frankly want, to fit into my life right now. These days, I get my exercise by taking the kids for a walk to the grocery store, a 20 minute yoga break in my office, an occasional neighborhood jog, gardening, or going on a bear hunt in my yard with my son (no, not real bears, google the song )... and of course the way less fun activities like cleaning, which I still count because I’m always cleaning. I try to be cognizant of my overall activity level, and add physical activity wherever I can. And to be honest, even without the gym routines, I would say I’m LESS sedentary now than before kids. You can ask my husband, and he will attest that I NEVER sit still! I used to use my time at the gym as an excuse to sit around the rest of the day, which research has shown can actually counteract the positive results of an exercise routine. Do I miss that time I used to spend at the gym?? Heck yeah, I do!! But I know eventually my kids will get older and more independent, and I’ll be more able, and more motivated, to get back to the gym. But for now, I’ll be getting most of my exercise hunting bears, and that’s just fine with me.
Not a fan of traditional exercise? Try incorporating these options:
- Skipping the breakroom coffee for a walk to the coffee shop
- Commit to always taking stairs when it’s an option
- Wherever your destination, if you can walk there, ditch the car and put on your sneakers
- Park in the back of the parking lot at the mall or shopping center
- Take your kids on an adventure walk around a local lake or park
- Enroll in a Mommy & Me class
- Invest in a standing desk for work
- Family bike rides
- Sign up for a 5k charity run/walk with a friend
- Join a local sports league, such as softball
- Spend an hour outside with your kids each day
- Limit your screen time (tv, phones, computer). Obviously not an actual physical activity, but you will certainly be looking for something to do with that free time!
- Aim for 30-60 minutes of “movement “ each day. This doesn’t have to be consecutive and it doesn’t have to be sweat-inducing to give you the benefits
And the last, but certainly not least, of the steps to a sustainable exercise plan:
5) Make adjustments as needed. No apologies! In the words of John Steinbeck, the best-laid plans of moms and dads often go awry… or something like that. As a parent, flexibility is key. Our time no longer belongs to us. So, if after a month or two, your plan to take the 8am Sunday class at your local yoga studio isn’t going so well, don’t abandon your exercise ship! Resist the reflex to beat yourself up for being “lazy” or not motivated enough. Cut yourself some slack and evaluate the REAL reasons that you’ve not been able to make it work. If you are not feeling motivated, there is probably a good reason that just requires some personal reflection to uncover. Maybe you find you really don’t want to give up that weekend morning family time, and it would be more realistic to change your solo yoga class plan to a Sunday morning family bike ride. If you take away one thing from this blog post, let it be DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. Keep in mind, what works for you now, may not work for you in 6 months. That’s ok. Adjustments can always be made as often as needed. That’s the life of a parent. I also find that any time I can incorporate my children into my fitness plan, I am much more likely to continue it.
Ok, so now you are on the path to a sustainable and realistic fitness plan! You got this!! I would love to hear from you with any additional questions or feedback. Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2019!