There are a handful of things that are constant companions in a parent's life:
- Medical anxiety
- Some form of caffeine
- Knowing you should be exercising
Obviously I'm generalizing, but in my experience I'm not too far off. The first two are topics for another day. The last one is something I've been thinking about, perfecting, agonizing over, failing at, and succeeding in over and over and over for as long as I can remember.
"I should totally go workout today."
"I could run a 5k if I put my mind to it."
"When did I last work out? June?" She asked herself, watching the snow fall outside her window.
It's hard to keep a steady exercise schedule when you're a parent. It often means sacrificing the precious alone time you've hoarded away, or making dinner stressful, or cutting your lunch break short. I've been trying to fit it in (and motivate myself to do it) for almost 9 years now, and while I'm definitely not a competitive bodybuilder or anything, I've managed to always hop back on the exercise horse, even after a few months' break. These are the tricks I've learned:
1. Turn "Exercise Time" Into "TV Time."
I'm not going to pretend to be a hero. This, for me, is the ultimate workout motivation. One hour on the treadmill = one hour of my favorite not-appropriate-for-children TV show. I plug in my headphones, turn on my show, and let my brain wander off into TV Land instead of focusing on how much my lungs want to explode. I recognize that this method requires you to either own a treadmill or maintain a gym membership — so it's not universally accessible — but if you can get access to a workout machine of any kind, treating yourself to 45 minutes of Netflix might be just what you need to get your butt off the couch.
2. Find something fun
There are so many ways to exercise, and not all of them are painful and grueling. If you can find something that fits your personality and exercise style, it's easier to motivate yourself to move. For me, because I love dancing, the answer was Zumba. You can take classes at the gym, or you can buy the DVD set and do it at home. It was fun, it got my heart pumping, and it didn't feel like an obligation. If paying for classes or purchasing an entire workout set isn't in the cards for you, check out The Fitness Marshall on YouTube. He creates body-positive, super-fun dance workouts to go along with popular songs… and it's pretty hard not to dance along with him!
3. Alone? Together? Find out which works better.
I've read plenty of exercise tip articles that tell you to "find a workout buddy!" and I think that philosophy needs a bit of an update. When you're a parent, and many of your friends are also parents, it can be even more difficult to organize a buddy-schedule. "Who's going to watch the kids? Can we fit this in before dinner? Will we still want to go after dinner?"
Sometimes depending on a workout buddy can lead to more excuses for everyone involved. If you can make a schedule work for the both of you, great. If you can't? You might consider a "workout babysitting buddy" schedule instead. That way you can each provide equal babysitting for each other, ensuring that you both get a workout in.
4. Try a Couch to 5k plan.
A 5k race is a great way to give yourself an exercise goal and, many times, donate to a local charity all at the same time. Many communities hold annual 5k races to raise money for various causes, and the atmosphere is often fun, positive, and extremely rewarding.
The thought of actually running a 5k, though? That can be daunting! Luckily, there are some awesome "couch to 5k" programs out there that very gradually ease you into running 5k over a period of weeks. The original "C25K" program can be found here. This company makes an affordable app to use, although if you have a way to time yourself, you can simply follow the plan without the help of their app. You can even find a zombie-themed 5k app if you need a little extra motivation.
Don't Give Up
If these methods don't work, keep trying to find something that fits your life. We've got to be able to keep up with those small humans of ours, and we owe it to ourselves to stay healthy. Good luck!