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Does Parenthood Hurt Your Health?

Parents Exercise Less, Young Moms Eat More Than Women Without Children, Study Finds

Tracking Health Habits in New Parents continued...

Moms ate about 400 more calories each day than women without children. Those additional calories came from a higher intake of sugar-sweetened drinks, like sodas or drink mixes, and saturated fat. Moms weighed more than childless women, too, averaging about 1 point higher on the body mass index.

When researchers looked at exercise, parents lagged behind people without children.

Moms fell short on both total physical activity and moderate-to-vigorous exercise, the kind that’s especially good for heart health, while dads reported getting about the same total physical activity as men who weren’t parents, but doing less moderate-to-vigorous activities.

Specifically, moms reported getting about 50 fewer minutes, and dads got 93 fewer minutes, of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week compared to people without children.

How to Get Back on Track

Experts say new parents who are thrown off balance by family demands shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help, because poor health habits can affect children and adults by creating what Francis calls an “obesigenic environment” at home.

“It sets them up on this path for creating these behaviors that are sustained and transferred from one generation to another,” she says.

Asking extended family members or friends to watch the kids for an hour can give harried parents enough time to squeeze in missed workouts or to catch up on sleep.

It can also help to reframe or redefine what you think of as exercise, Berge says.

“Instead of thinking of physical activity as something you have to do in the gym or on your own, think of it as something like a family level thing where you can walk to the park together, play tag together,” Berge says. “Encompass it as part of your day instead of thinking of it, as we all do, that it has to be individual, at the gym.”

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