Exercise: The working-parent dilemma

October 3, 2016

I have two beautiful and healthy boys. I also have a career that I love and a wonderful wife who loves hers too. Really, in the grand scheme of things, how could I complain? Well sometimes things are just tough and it feels like there is not enough time in the day. Providing well balanced meals takes time, keeping up a consistent schedule for the boys takes time, getting to work and fulfilling those responsibilities takes time, etcetera etcetera.

So when you are finally winding down after a day of a thousand tasks, it should be expected that you're not super jazzed to go exercise. It's a pretty important trade off; complete all your family and work tasks and maybe have enough energy to make it through an episode of The Voice, or get through your tasks and forego that well deserved downtime so you can exercise.

Here are some of the strategies I use to stay active AND take care of business at home and in the office.

Wake up and go to sleep at a regular time. One of the most important, and often underestimated contributors to energy and stress is the amount of sleep you get. I'm no sleep doctor, and every person is different, so I'm not going to suggest a specific number of hours. What I do suggest is experimenting to find the right number for you and try to stick to it. For me, that's getting into bed by 10 pm, reading for an hour or so, and waking up at 7 am the next morning. That schedule keeps me feeling well rested and energized for the day.

Accept that plans may change, and adapt. Just yesterday in fact, I had planned to exercise during a lunch break. Just as I got training shoes on, my son fell and scraped his knee pretty badly. That lunch hour was spent with my boy putting on a bandaid and watching Paw Patrol. The key is to roll with the flow and adapt. Instead of a lunchtime routine, I did a post-dinner routine. It also would have been totally acceptable to skip the workout and aim for the next day. Exercise for health is a long game, one day missed or added is not going to change much over the long haul.

Exercise when you can, even if only for a few minutes. Researchers have found that as little as 10 minutes of exercise per day brings significant health benefits. While more is good too, it's important to not get demotivated with thinking like this: "Well, I don't have an hour to dedicate to the gym, might as well not do anything." This person is placing too much emphasis on the amount of time spent exercising in one bout rather than simply readjusting the routine to fit their available time.

Include your kids and significant other. Believe it or not, exercise can be fun for the whole family. Think of your favorite childhood playground games - I'm willing to bet that a majority of them involved running, jumping, lifting, swinging, or throwing. Including the kids is good for multiple reasons. First, of course is that it gets them active, something that seems to be tough for modern kids. Second, you get to do something as a family, something that is consciously planned - like a boardgame night. Third, you get your workout without major interruptions. Sure, you may do some coaching for the kids or have to explain something a few times, and you may go at a lower intensity, but the benefits way outweigh the shortfalls.

Finally, ask for help. It's surprising how much we don't do this, but it is a wonderfully eye opening challenge. If there is no downtime once you're home from work, ask your significant other and kids for help. For example, "Kids, mommy wants to do some exercise so she can be a healthy and strong mom for you. Can you play over here for 30 minutes?" or "Honey, can you bathe the kids on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday so I can squeeze a workout in?" What's important is communicating the amount of time you need for your routine. Clear communication and expectation setting usually allows time for you.

You'll notice none of my tips included waking up super early or staying up late. They didn't include paying a babysitter or forgoing your lunch break. I don't believe those work long term. It's very important to create positive experiences around exercise. If the only time you train is 5 am and you are miserable because you had to wake up so early, you are not fostering a positive relationship with exercise. Instead, find exercise that's enjoyable and try to prioritize it into your daily life.

In good health,

Francesco

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