How to exercise while caring for young children

How to exercise while caring for young children
“I’m blocking off tomorrow morning for a dance class,” I informed my husband, leaving all kid duties to him while I work out a sweat. I had been slacking with exercise the last several months and needed something fun to kick me back into gear. With taking care of a toddler, working, and a slew of other lame excuses (“I’d rather watch How I Met Your Mother” and “I just ate dinner” among them), exercise wasn’t a priority.

Not that it was ever a huge priority to begin with. See, ask me to run around the block and I’ll be ready to pass out in five minutes tops. I was good during pregnancy though, when I scheduled appropriate workouts like walking, stationary-cycling and cardio workout videos at home. But now that I have a kid, I regret not taking advantage of working out when I had a zillion more hours to myself.

That’s why I’m excited to introduce Erika from You Just Did What?! whom I interviewed for this very topic. You might remember Erika from the guest post I wrote on her blog, and she’s now paying us a visit here at Sleeping Should Be Easy.

Erika explains the importance of finding activities you want to do (hence the dance class) instead of those you don’t. She’ll also describe how she went from barely running for two minutes to running several races—all while parenting a two-year-old. She’s an inspiration to any mother who has ever doubted her abilities and strengths, and I couldn’t wait to feature her story.

Who knows, maybe I’ll give running a second chance after this:

Sleeping Should Be Easy: How did you get into running? How would you compare yourself now to when you first started?
Erika: I ran off and on since college, running a couple of miles here and there. It wasn’t until after having my daughter that I began to take exercise seriously. Needing to shed the beloved “baby weight” I had gained during pregnancy, I joined Strollers Strides, a group fitness class designed for mamas. The group happened to have a couple of runners, and I decided that it would be a great idea to get back into running. On a whim, I signed up for the Tinkerbell Half Marathon at Disneyland. At this point I could barely run comfortably for 2 minutes, and the race was only seven months away.

During my training, I signed up for a shorter 10k and realized how much I enjoyed running, so I kept signing up for more races. It can definitely become an addiction.

I have changed a lot over the course of my running journey. I am stronger both physically and mentally. My endurance is greater, and running has provided me with an outlet to relieve tension and stress—perfect when raising a toddler!

SSBE: Speaking of toddlers, I can’t imagine exercising regularly while taking care of a young child. Clearly it’s possible since you’re a great example, so how do you make time to exercise with a toddler in tow?
Erika: I am asked this question all the time! Exercise makes me feel good, so I make it a priority. With that in mind, it’s easier for me to stick to my guns and make sure I squeeze in a workout. When I was training for my Half Marathon, I had a specific training plan in place—I followed the same routine every week and made sure I had babysitters lined up on those days.

I’m not training for anything at the moment, so when I do workout, my daughter comes along with me. She will ride in the Bob Stroller if I’m going for a walk or jog. Or I take her to the gym where she plays in the kids club. I also take her to Stroller Strides. And I often wake up at 5am to get my workout over with before anyone wakes up!

SSBE: What’s a typical day for you and your daughter?
Erika: We wake up around 6am and see my husband off to work. We lounge around until about 8am, eating breakfast and playing quietly. If I decide to work out to a video, I’ll do it then while my daughter plays quietly or joins me.

If I don’t work out then, we’ll hit the gym or go for a stroll. After that, she gets in her outdoor play time at the park or with friends. We head back home for lunch and nap time. When she wakes up, we usually play in the backyard (and now that it’s summer, we love to turn on the sprinklers!). I’ll also get chores done in the afternoon and head over to the store to run errands.

We eat dinner once my husband comes home. Then, we start the bedtime routine at 7:30pm. The next day, we get up and do it again!

SSBE: How do you stay motivated when you just want to quit?
Erika: Ha ha—good question and one I am still trying to figure out myself. Exercise makes me feel good so I try to keep that in mind. I’m most motivated when I’m working towards a goal (I usually have a training plan set out for me, so knowing what I need to do and having my workouts planned makes it easier).

I’ll also add that nothing has helped me more than the support of friends and family. I would much rather work out with someone than by myself. It’s so much easier (and way more fun) when you have accountability partners who are going through the same thing!

SSBE: What advice can you give moms who are just starting to run or exercise?

  • Find a community of other mothers who enjoy working out. There are tons of mother running clubs out there catering to moms getting together, becoming healthy and having fun. Plus, they are sure to have some Mom Night Outs, as well.
  • Set a goal for yourself and don’t be afraid to dream big (for instance, sign up for a half marathon when you know you can only run 2 minutes at a time).
  • Get a babysitter. Try to reserve some workout time for yourself.
  • If you work, try to get up early and do a short 30 minute workout (if only for a week). My favorite runs are in the morning, when the air is cool and crisp.
  • Find an activity you enjoy and mix it up. You don’t have to do the same thing over and over again! Don’t let yourself get bored. Exercise should make you feel better afterward. If it doesn’t, rethink your activity.

Thank you Erika, for sharing your story and hopefully offering other moms the inspiration they need to exercise and be healthy. I know I’ve since made working out more of a priority. Even if on most days my workouts consist of brisk walking or simple cardio videos, my heart is pumping, my muscles moving, and best of all, I feel so much better for it.

Do you exercise regularly, or whenever you can squeeze it in? What workout goals are you trying to reach? How can you involve your kids in your workouts?

p.s. Get email updates from Sleeping Should Be Easy because you won’t miss a single post.

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33 thoughts on “How to exercise while caring for young children

  1. *Sigh* I sort of exercise whenever I fit it in. As you can see, I’ve not made it a huge priority. I’m taking baby steps towards it so we’ll see.

    • Hi Steph! It is SO hard to make it a priority, isn’t it!?! Especially when we have so many other things to take care of throughout the day. Then, by the time night comes around, we get so tired!! But baby steps are good. Yay! Even if it’s just a walk around the block. Sometimes I count my exercise walking around the mall. Ha ha. Good luck!!

  2. Just this morning I was fretting over how I needed to get back on my workout routine. I’ll have weeks where I do great and then all of a sudden it’s all out the window. I’ve definitely been finding it to be tough to workout when Toddler Luke only takes one nap a day and the hubby leaves super early in the morning and comes home late. Been debating the big $ of a gym membership to get the childcare but having a hard time getting myself to jump in on the investment. *Sigh from me as well*

    • Hi!! For me, routine was the key word! Having the set schedule was what I needed and having either a babysitter or childcare set up made it more possible. It was on my calendar and was set in stone. Also, having something to work towards made a big difference. That’s why I enjoy training for races. But as my toddler gets older, it does get tougher, for sure!!

  3. Thank you so much for the interview! I hope it can be inspiring. I know it’s SO hard to get moving, but I just keep in mind the quote: “I really regret that workout.” Said no one ever. :)

  4. I used to at least walk daily, but even that’s gone out the window now that I have three. For me to walk fast enough and long enough to be remotely exercise-like, all three kids have to ride; I only have a double-stroller, and Mr. Teeny is already too big for the Snugli (no kidding–he’s huge, having also gotten too tall for his infant car seat). Which leaves me either getting up early or exercising after bedtime, neither of which sound appealing since I’m perpetually exhausted. I guess I’ll be healthy next year…

    • Ha Ha…I know it is SO much easier when you only have one. I personally think chasing around 3 is a workout in itself!! But I’d love to have that many some day, so I’m sure I will find myself in the same boat. As they get older, you’ll get more time to yourself. We all go through seasons in our life. Good luck with your little ones!

    • I’m in the same boat. I’ll take a walk around with my kiddo, but since he’s so slow and takes his good old time, it doesn’t exactly count as a workout ;) But when I push him in a stroller, especially up and down hills, then yeah I totally can work up a sweat!

  5. I never really liked to exercise but recently I thought if I wanted to stay healthy and live longer to take care of my children, then I should start taking care of myself too! Working full time and taking care of 2 toddler boys is already hard enough to find some down time, what more going to the gym and work out?! Thus, my husband and I bought an elliptical machine to squeeze in some time to exercise whenever the boys are sleeping.

    • Joy, I agree with gyms; I can’t imagine having to drive out to one with the limited time we have. We don’t have machines although that sounds awesome. Instead I downloaded workout tapes to do at home when the kiddo is asleep. And I also walk around a trail near our home.

  6. GREAT timing. I am 9 months postpartum and training for my first ever half-marathon and have been in a HUGE slump for the past 3 weeks. I definitely needed this motivation. Will be checking out her blog and getting back on track today!

    • Congrats!! That’s so exciting!! Get ready for a HUGE challenge that will make you so much stronger. So excited for you! Yes, curious about which half you are doing?? I’ll be interested to see how you do on your journey!

  7. I just try and make sure I do as many active jobs as I can. I mow the lawn, do the gardening, I make furniture (lugging around big pieces of wood soon brings your arms up), paint the house and fences and I play games with the little ones like juggling and hula hoops. They like to watch and you can just stop and start to suit them. I wouldn’t have time and they wouldn’t have the patience to sit through an exercise video but they this stuff is real jobs that they can help with and learn how to do.

    • Hi Jessica! Yeah, my kid wouldn’t be able to sit and just watch me do videos. Although I’ve never tried; he might be mesmerized by what the heck is going on haha.

      I like your approach of using regular chores to get a workout. I think I should try and get more active with my kid, but man rough housing is not my thing. I think it would be fun though to run around with him at the park, but I can’t imagine doing that with him now; maybe when he’s older and we can “race” each other.

  8. I dread waking up early, but if it means getting into shape, it might be worth it. I’ll be trying Erika’s one-week challenge next week. :)

    • Woohoo! Yeah I’ve since given up on waking up early. I’d rather clear out my evening to workout than to wake up early. Although I’ve been tempted to try to workout in the morning and go to sleep in my gym clothes the night before so that I really have no excuse when I wake up!

  9. I exercise either:
    1. Monday/Wednesday/Friday morning after I drop Eli off at school… but only if I don’t have to work that particular morning.
    2. Monday/Wednesday/Friday in the evening after Eli goes to bed… but only if I get home from work before 7 or 8.
    3. Tuesday/Thursday during naptime… if I get my chores done first.
    Usually this all pans out to me working out 2 or 3 times a week. I am in love with these videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/blogilates. I can do 20 or 30 minutes and be so sore the next day!

    • Thanks for the link Casey. So it’s like pilates? You know I could never hang with pilates; I prefer yoga but even that is more of a relaxing, stretching workout than an actual sweat your body out workout for me. But I’ll give this a try!

      • It is pilates, and it’s a low impact kind of thing. I love that most of the videos are under 20 minutes… some of the most effective are like 8 minutes long!

  10. I spent the first year of Ben’s life not working out at all, and it was depressing. I finally have gotten into a great routine of doing exercise videos (usually pilates, or strength training with Tone It Up videos) while Ben naps! I mean, he naps for 3 hours so why not! I also try to take long stroller walks with him (like today, we walked 3 miles) to run an errand. It gets something done, and makes me sweat, and gets him out of the house!

    I am also so excited to join a REAL gym in the fall with daycare :) I think it will be great for me AND Ben! Great post!!

    • Thank you! I’m so jealous that Ben naps for 3 hours! Wow, that’s amazing. And yes workout videos are great because I get to squeeze them in when he’s asleep at night. I also agree about taking him out for a stroll to do errands. Plus you don’t have to take the car!

      Glad you’re able to join the gym and kick it up a notch. Thanks again Lisa; always good to hear from you!

  11. This is a great post! I know so many of my friends struggle with exercise, I find it so therapeutic especially now that I’m at home so much. My husband and I take it in turns to mind bub so the other can go for a run at every opportunity.

  12. I also use regular chores and chasing after Oster as my form of exercise; however, my doctor recently told me that this work doesn’t count! I have to get my blood pumping and heart racing. *long sigh here*

    It looks like I’ll be taking some advice from this post and your readers’ comments. Thanks for the push.

    • I figure so long as regular chores or chasing is consistent and goes on for a long time (like 20 minutes) then it counts. But yeah, there’s no way my regular chores would count for exercise haha! I need to feel my heart pumping and then I know I’m actually getting something out of it. That’s why those leisurely walks with my toddler just isn’t going to quite cut it :)

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