Exercise has been proven to have benefits way beyond just the physical health and maintenance of our bodies. It helps with mood, productivity, energy levels, focus and on and on. We KNOW this. And more than likely, we've experienced this.
So why, as a new mom who desperately needs things like energy, focus, and elevated mood, do we find it so hard to make exercise a priority? Maybe it's because...
If working out means going to the gym, or to a class, or anywhere outside the house, that means leaving your baby when you already think you do that too much. It means feeling guilty the whole way there, worrying about whether he is at home crying or missing you, and then racing home frantically to minimize the time away.
If working out means doing an exercise video in your living room while the baby sleeps, that means rushing through the exercises, not truly focusing because you're worried that at any second the baby will start crying and then you'll be angry because you can never get in a full workout! So why even try?
Or if working out means pushing the stroller around the block a few times, that's great and all but what about the weather? And will you ever lose the baby weight with just walking?
I get it. I have made each and every one of these excuses to myself over the years as I've had young babies and now even with a toddler. I KNOW and have experienced the huge benefits of exercise. It is one of the best treatments for the cloud of depression that sometimes hangs over my head. And for that reason, I have forced myself and retrained my mind to look forward to and crave exercise, so that now, it would be one of the last things to go from my daily schedule. But it wasn't always this way.
What does exercise look like for me? Well these days, and keep in mind my kids are 3 1/2 and 15 months old, it's a morning exercise video in my living room. I have sampled a variety of trainers, program styles and workout lengths to figure out what I like and what is going to keep me motivated. And right now, it's a 30-60 minute strength workout before everyone else is awake. I do that 6 days a week (Saturdays I do the workout with the kids crawling all over me) and then I take Sunday off to rest, stretch and soak in some Epsom salts.
Now, was I doing this much in those early months postpartum? Absolutely not. With baby number two, I didn't get back into a regular routine until she was almost 8 months old, and even then it was 30-minute workouts only and with no set schedule. I did them when I could, where I could. I've found that the morning works for me, and the majority of the working moms I know, who are committed to regular workouts, also get them done in the mornings whether they enjoy getting up early or not!
Creating Your Routine
But this article is all about finding time to work out and finding what works for you. So here are some things to consider when trying to make exercise a priority, and remember, I'm not a personal trainer. This is just one working mom's tips based on experience and a LOT of trial and error:
Why do you want to workout?
- Are you serious about losing the baby weight?
- Do you want to train for an event or hit a milestone?
- Is it about the mental health benefits that come with exercise (and feeling better all around)?
- Is it because you feel like you should?
- Is it a social outlet?
When you've worked out in the past, how were you successful?
- This really comes down to are you self-motivated or do you do better with some sort of external accountability.
- I've worked with moms who know for a fact that they could never do at-home workouts. They are not self-motivated or focused enough to put on workout clothes, go to the living room, hit play and not be distracted by the laundry or chores waiting for them. And that's ok. Those are the moms who know they need an accountability partner or the structure of a class to be successful.
- I like a bit of a hybrid. I work out at home but am part of a virtual accountability group. Logging my workout every day to check a box on my calendar and share with others who are doing the same workout is motivating for me.
What options do you have?
- Are you already a member of a gym or is adding a gym membership financially feasible?
- What classes are offered during times that could work for you or in locations that are convenient to work or home?
- Are there any places that offer affordable on-site childcare and what ages do they take?
- Do you have space in your home for a yoga mat, exercise ball or other workout gear that could support what you're interested in doing?
- Do you have friends or acquaintances who are interested in exercising and if so, what do they want to do?
From here, the options are endless. Search any moms' Facebook group and you will find all kinds of suggestions - from trendy classes like Cyclebar, Pure Barre or Orange Theory, staples like yoga and Zumba, to the many on-demand workout videos - there is absolutely something for everyone.
Once you've figured out the what, the question boils down to how. How can you make it a priority? Here are some questions I asked myself when I was ready to recommit to working out:
How can you make it a priority?
- Do you need to tell those closest to you that this is something you want to do (spouse, family, friends, coworkers)?
- Can you take advantage of your childcare scenario to fit in exercise while your little one is being cared for?
- If you have a partner, can you trade off throughout the week so you each get the chance to workout while the other is watching the baby?
- How much time do you actually need each week to workout? It's ok to start small.
- Are you willing to give up something else in order to fit in a little bit of exercise each week?
Something is Better Than Nothing
The key is starting. You need to start to be able to remind yourself what it feels like to exercise. Proving to yourself that something is better than nothing and the benefits of exercise really do exist. Because at this stage, you've probably forgotten what it feels like.
Why not start with a walk? Depending on what you used to do before baby, it may not seem like much but just move your body. Tell yourself you're going to take a walk, and then do it. Once you've kept your commitment a few times, try something else. Maybe that's a few minutes of yoga in your living room or a drop-in class somewhere with a friend. See how it goes.
You're not looking for the perfect solution, you're just looking for something that will work for now. Experiment. Figure out what you like. Have fun. And don't be surprised if you need to change things up along the way. As your baby gets bigger, your routines will change and so it's good to have an attitude of flexibility. It's good to have options that let you keep working out.
Because once you start, I'm guessing you won't want to quit.
This article is part of a series where I answer reader questions about working motherhood. I'm an open book and happy to answer any and all questions I receive, no matter how small. Have a question you'd like to see answered here? Submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read other Q&A articles in this series: