Saturday, 12 September 2015

How to fit in exercise as a busy parent

As many people reading this blog will know, nearly 4 years ago I didn't exercise at all.  I tell a lie, my only exercise, which is significant, was pushing my toddler in his push chair, mostly thinking "please have a nap!"  I was busy, recently having returned to the workplace, I had a blog, Mamacook all about kids food.  Life was just work, son, more son and everything surrounding my son.

Gradually over those years I've taken myself from someone who would baulk at the idea of getting sweaty to someone who is almost in tears that I can "only" run three miles at the moment due to injury.  Injury is another story however, (physio pending) but despite this I keep exercising and now, working 4 days a week in a much more demanding job which often results in me travelling for meetings, I still fit in 4-6 exercise sessions a week.  So here I am to convince you that you can too.  Try for 3 times a week to start with, a time commitment of only 90 minutes or less than 1% of your week.  Some tips will work better if your child is in school or preschool or if you work part time but I promise you that something will help even if you have no childcare and no support.

Stop thinking of exercise as punishment

This was the biggest change I made.  Exercise became the only time in the day that was for me.  The time when I didn't have a child saying "Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!"  It is my chance to let my mind wander and work through the stresses and strains of the day.


Use your evenings and nap times (if you have them)

I know how it is, the child is finally in bed and it's time for you to sit down.  Yes, I feel it but now your child is in bed, this is you time and as I said before, exercise is you time.

Drop off at school or nursery

If you have a day a week where your child is at school or nursery but you're not at work, exercise straight after drop off, ideally do something outside so you don't go home first.  Drop off in your exercise gear.  If it bothers you that people will see you in your leggings, stop letting it bother you.  No-one cares.  I'm 39 and no-one bats an eyelid.  Put on your glam outfit for pick up if you must!

The reason I suggest this is because if you walk to school, by the time you've walked home again then got yourself sorted, an extra 30 mins to an hour may have passed.  This is why I always plan a run for my one day a week I drop off my son at school.  Foot permitting, this is often my longer run of the week.

Early morning

If you don't drop off your child at childcare or have a partner to help, early morning can be a great time.  About once a fortnight I manage to squeeze in a run or an exercise video at 6am.  This might sound crazy but I'm a natural lark and my normal wake up time is 6:15am so I'm only getting up 15 minutes early.  If my clothes and lunch are ready, I can then easily make it to work on time or even early.  There is something great as well about getting to work thinking "I've already done my exercise for the day."

While your child is busy

Sometimes there is a moment your child is absorbed in Lego or a film.  I'm not advocating ignoring small children or using your TV as childcare but there are moments, half an hour maybe when slightly older kids are pretty sorted.  Take that moment and exercise.  You can even stay in the same room together, especially if you're doing a workout from youtube and it does no harm for your child to see you getting fit, in fact what better example is there in our obesogenic environment?

Throw out the old fashioned exercise videos

Yes really, ok maybe give them to charity.  They are collecting dust on your shelf because you don't like them.  What's the point of forcing yourself to do something you don't like?  Absolutely pointless.  There are other problems with these videos too:
They're too long
They don't exercise you at high enough intensity
They contain no strength training
Yes they work but instead of working out for 30 minutes a day you will need to work out for an hour or more to get results.  You don't have that time.

A quick note on Strength Training.  Weights are great for women as well as men.  It helps improve bone density so reduces the risk of osteoporosis.  It also means you gain muscle and muscle burns calories and makes you look good.  You will not become a muscle bound freak either without a seriously controlled diet, massive weights and probably steroids so stop worrying about it!  You can lift as a woman and even lift heavy without looking unfeminine.

Here are my suggestions;

Jillian Michaels.  Jillian came out with the "30 Day Shred" a few years ago.  This is a sub 30 minute work out which you are meant to do daily.  Ignore the daily stuff as that's where boredom can kick in and just get back into exercise to give it a go, some is better than none.  Some of her videos are free on Youtube but it's cheap to get the DVD.  Here is the first level from 30 Day Shred for free so you can stop finding excuses not to try.

Jillian has got loads of other DVDs as well.  To keep costs down, when I buy fitness DVDs I tend to buy them second hand. Amazon have second hand sellers on their website and this can reduce costs massively.  At time of writing you could reduce the cost of 30 day shred by more than a pound by buying a "very good" condition second hand copy.

My favourite workouts though at the moment are from Fitness Blender.  They have complete work outs of all lengths as well as workouts you can piece together to create the exercise you want to do and they're all free if you have unlimited internet access.

I subscribe to their Youtube feed but also their website is a great place to search by workout length, calorie burn etc.  Frustratingly you can't watch in full screen from their website but start the video then switch to Youtube by clicking the icon and then you can.  They have workouts of all different lengths if you have a day where you really can't be bothered to even do 30 minutes, my personal rule is "I must do something" so I might do 15 minutes of Pilates.  Yes the calorie burn won't be high but it's better than nothing, it's more than I would have done if I'd done nothing.

Kelli and Daniel seem to have the same problems with boredom that I do so I sometimes piece together a cardio or HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout with strength, abs maybe some yoga and it doesn't feel like I've been exercising for as long as I have.  A great website for men as well as it's not dance orientated and one of the instructors is male.

This is one of my favourite kickboxing videos on the feed.  The pace of it might be a surprise to start with but the whole idea of short workouts is you really give everything to every move.

Fitness blender never put music with their videos which I didn't notice for ages but it's easy to play tunes at the same time if you want.

My other suggestion I give time and time again is Couch to 5K.  It really is the gentle way to get back into running and made me love it again after years of inactivity.

Go for variety

My foot injury was in part caused by building up to 11.5 mile runs which, in retrospect was ridiculous and more because I'm now less than a year away from 40 than because I really wanted to do half marathon distances.  As a result I ended up running too much but variety not only helps you prevent boredom but also might help prevent injury.  Over the past week I've done:

2 runs
Barre (ballet inspired) fitness
Strength and abs workout

This works different parts of my body each time which helps overall fitness and tone and helps my mind stay interested but also calm.  Choosing what exercise I'm planning to do is quite good fun.

No excuses

Don't find the time to exercise, make the time or at least do something.  Shift your mindset.  Other things could move or drop off your daily list but not that.  My top tip if I'm away from home is I put Jillian Michaels Yoga Meltdown into my bag.  That way I don't need to take trainers or a sports bra with me (it's a low impact but high intensity work out you are encouraged to do in bare feet) and either I can run it on a DVD player or in the drive of my laptop.

I used to think of yoga as a soft option but both Jillian and Fitness Blender have workouts which raise your heart rate and it's surprising how much core strength it builds.

New suggestion:  Split your workouts

If you really have no time you can always split work outs.  Only have time for a 2 mile run?  Why not do some ab exercises later?  Want to fit in a longer work out but don't have time?  Some workout experts are even suggesting two shorter work outs might be better!  Why?  Because if you work out at maximum intensity for two shorter sessions, the intensity is likely to be higher than if you'd paced yourself over a longer work out.

Keep a log

I always have the view that doing something is better than counting every calorie, that said I use MapMyRun to log running routes but also to keep track of when I've done non running workouts.  I have found they overestimate calorie burn vs. Fitness Blender's guidelines but to be honest, calorie burn is so individual I'm not sure either is accurate; just being active is the important thing.  The only reason I log it is so I can see how many workouts I've done each week.

Don't expect miracles

Exercise is not to lose weight.  Generally exercise will increase calorie burn and keep metabolism up if you're dieting but if you want to lose weight, the best way is to not eat too much and not eat when you're not hungry.  Exercise will help improve tone, appearance, posture etc and will probably make you look like you've lost weight even if you haven't.  But I always find that my appearance today is more to do with the workouts I did and diet I had 2-3 weeks ago.  If I slack off for a week for some reason, things barely change but then weeks later I find I can see I'm less toned but it takes a long time to come back.  So if you're doing it for aesthetic reasons, it's a long haul that you're going to be doing for life.

But don't just do it for aesthetic reasons.  Exercise reduces stress, improves sleep and gives you you time.

When are you exercising today?

I've linked this up here


  1. I walk or run and I agree that not going home after a preschool or school drop off is the best way to make sure it happens. Great post. I think your first point is so essential, changing your attitude to exercise.

    1. Absolutely. I went out for a 4 mile run tonight (long for me at the moment since I injured my foot) and I have to say the wind on my face as I ran was just awesome. I feel great now. I also ran up a hill and past a couple of other runners on the incline. I know I shouldn't say it but that made me feel GREAT!

  2. I have a very bad knee and the only real exercise I can do is swimming. even yoga (all that stretching) is a no no. I would love to be able to run again but it's never going to happen. I find swimming so difficult to build into my time as a working and blogging mum but must make more of an effort! #MMWBH

    1. I feel your pain on injury. I've had a niggling foot injury and I'm waiting for some physio but fortunately it's not at this stage thought to be permanent. Knees are so difficult though, my Dad had three knee replacements (long story) but now swears by cycling (static and normal bike) and a static rowing machine but I can't vouch that it would be for all. I hope you get some relief.

  3. Gosh I'm dreadful, I barely ever exercise and I feel so guilty about it. I really do need to try to get into it. I find I do about one run a year, I'm not exactly a gym bunny! I need to change though, my metabolism is not what it used to be! #MMWBH

    1. It's not an inevitability that you put on weight as you age. Find something you like and that can fit in. I really would try Fitness Blender as well because there is so much variety in length and type of exercise, it's really difficult to get bored.

  4. Great post! I have a 2yr old who iam at home with all the time and my partner works away all week so finding time to exercise it tricky. I mainly exercise in the evenings as this is the only time my toddler isn't around but cant always be bothered so I find any 10mins I can while shes busy to do a quick workout or jog. I also followed the 3o day shred and loved it! :)


    1. It's tricky with such a small one but if she still naps, I would say that's your time. Remind yourself that the effort while she's napping is worth it for the relaxation time you get in the evening!

    2. It's tricky with such a small one but if she still naps, I would say that's your time. Remind yourself that the effort while she's napping is worth it for the relaxation time you get in the evening!

  5. Thanks for posting this. This is what I needed today as id spent my shower moaning at myself for not making it to the gym yet again. Finding it hard with two children and woek to squeeze it in. I am going to check out fitness blender. Thank you for thr inspiration.

    1. No problem and I don't think moaning at yourself works. Give yourself a pat on the back when you do manage it, be kind to yourself when you don't.

  6. What a fab post and I have been one of those Mums that used to shred as the baby napped. However now the baby is now a toddler and she doesn't nap! So my only form of exercise is running after her constantly, lol!

    Thanks so much for linking up! #MMWBH

  7. Good advice! I personally enjoy the 10 minute solutions DVDs since they make me feel like I can actually can some workout in. I also enjoy Leslie Sansone's walking DVDs because I can do them right in the middle of kids and pets. I dropped off for the last month so thanks for the encouragement to get back to regular exercise.


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