Parents Who Exercise: Overcoming the Challenges
8 tips for staying active when you have kids.
Daniel Brennan, MD
Parents and exercise are not usually words you see in the same sentence. From the moment you step on the physical and emotional roller coaster known as parenthood, your needs often must come second to the needs of your children. Exercising, as a parent, becomes a much more difficult task.
This is true whether you’re in the throes of sleep-deprivation with a newborn or stay busy driving your children from school to soccer practice, tennis matches, and piano lessons. Even people who had a strong commitment to exercise before having children will struggle to find consistent time to stay fit once they become parents.
Being a parent "wreaks havoc with your schedule," says Betsy Keller, PhD, professor of exercise and sports sciences at Ithaca College.
Indeed, a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh confirmed that new parents really are more sedentary than singles or married couples without children. The study tracked physical activity levels of more than 800 young adults for more than two years. It found that while physical activity declined among all participants during that span, it took the biggest hit among new parents.
That's despite the fact that new parents often feel like they are always on the go, says researcher Ethan E. Hull, MEd, an exercise physiologist candidate at the University of Pittsburgh.
"The priorities of a family just change," says Hull. "The focus isn’t with your friends, it isn’t with yourself, it isn’t with your spouse; it’s with that child. Your own physical activity just isn’t as important as the attention you’re giving that child."
But when it comes to abandoning physical activity, you’re not just hurting yourself, say experts.
"Now that you have kids, you want to be around for the kids," says Jon Chipko, a certified strength and conditioning coach from Montclair, N.J. "You want to be healthy, to be able to play with them, to be around when they get older."
Time constraints, lack of sleep, and selflessness are all perfectly valid excuses for the short term, says Hull. But, he warns, be careful how much time you let go by.
"It’s easy to sit on the couch," Hull says. "It’s not easy to get out and exercise. [But] down the road, if parents have lost all this physical activity for years, they’re not going to snap back."
Whether you are a mom or a dad, a parent of a newborn or a teenager, here are some effective ways to incorporate exercise back into your life and fight the tendency to become more sedentary.