As any parent can confirm, anything you want to do for yourself becomes much more challenging when you have kids. Exercise is no exception. But finding the time to work out is an important part of maintaining your physical and mental health, and I find the effects of regular movement can help ease the stress in other parts of life.
I make an effort to exercise four times a week. I do it for me, but it’s also for my family (my wife and four kids), because having a grumpy dad floating around the house isn't good for anyone. Childhood is a key time for building habits, so staying fit and healthy means I’m presenting a good role model for my kids. That’s important to me – I want them to see health and exercise as normal parts of life.
Staying fit was easy when I played footy – it was basically my job to workout. Nowadays, it’s harder to find the time, but I prioritise exercising because I know it helps me be the kind of parent I want to be.
I find the most common barrier parents come up against is time. There’s always the exception to the rule – like the single mother who works three jobs – but for most people, doing an audit of how you spend your time is helpful. We always make time for things that provide us comfort – like eating, or scrolling through social media – but it’s harder with exercise as it initially brings discomfort before the post-exercise endorphins kick in. A good first step is to challenge the idea that you can’t find the time. From there, you can acknowledge the mental battle that you’ll face, and aim to conjure the resolve to push through.
If you’re time-poor, it’s vital to make the most of any spare half hour. For me, I never assume I'll be able to exercise when the kids are there – it just won't happen – so I get up and run early in the morning, before they wake up. Running’s such an efficient form of exercise because it’s quick. You can run four of five kilometres in 20 minutes, and your exercise is done for the day.
I’ve seen a couple of groups of parents who take turns getting up each morning. So, it'll be one partner’s turn on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; the other partner’s on Tuesday and Thursday; or vice versa. One of the good things about this model is the inferred pressure it puts on, because if it's ‘your’ morning and you don't make the most of it, you're not getting the next morning.
The key to exercise as a parent is to find something that works for you, and stick with the routine. Some people hate getting up and working out first thing in the morning, so make use of your lunch break at work, or do fun, active things with your kids if you’re at home. Take the stairs where you can. Cycle on your commute. It all counts.
Ultimately, I always come back to the fact that, at the end of your life, you'd exchange whatever money you have for more time with your loved ones. But right now, you can effectively ‘buy’ more time through the choices you make, so why wouldn’t you?
This month on OneLife, I look forward to exploring more topics at the intersection of parenting and health, and how to stay active with kids so your whole family can lead healthier, happier lives.