There are times when we all struggle to find the physical and mental space to exercise. It happens to even the most ardent of gym rats. We might usually enjoy our workouts, and we all know the benefits of exercising regularly in helping to reduce the risk of chronic and fatal illnesses. Exercise has a raft of social benefits and it makes us stronger, improves endurance and can help us to lose weight and gain muscle. Exercise can help reduce feelings of anxiety and physical activity can be used to treat mild forms of depressions.
Despite knowing all of this, there are just some days when it’s too easy and too convenient to skip a session, a class, a meeting or workout. No big deal, right? But what if you not only find it difficult to set aside the time for exercise but then when you do, you feel guilty. That’s exactly what a survey commissioned by Sport England discovered when it asked over 1,000 mothers with children under the age of 6 about their workout regimes.
The biggest excuse given for not exercising was a lack of time. This really isn’t all that surprising. Parenthood has a knack of creating a black hole right about where ‘me-time’ was once pencilled in.
The survey also found that physical activity just wasn’t a priority for many women when compared with housekeeping, child care and cooking. In fact, only 17% of women said they made exercise a priority. 61% said that they felt guilty about exercising when they did. A third of women asked said they had less than an hour a day to exercise. What’s really staggering, however, is that of all the mothers asked 77% said they wanted to exercise more.
It’s not a lack of will, therefore, but a lack of how to. Mothers want to exercise but don’t feel that they’re able to. If they do, then any pleasure or excitement associated with working out is eroded by feelings of guilt.
Mims Davies, Minister for Sport and Civil Society, was reported in the Telegraph as having said that mothers often have the biggest influence on their children when it comes to fitness. Therefore, a mother who doesn’t exercise may go on to become a parent to children who show little or no interest in exercise or sport. Given the obesity crisis among children in the UK, this has to change. It’s more important than ever to encourage mothers to participate in and to enjoy exercise so that the message they send to their children is one that’s a positive and powerful endorsement of sport and physical activity.
One study from the University of Pittsburgh followed 800 young adults tracking their fitness levels over the course of two years. Researchers found activity levels dropped considerably when participants became new parents. Suggesting that this isn’t only a problem specific to UK mothers.
How Can Mothers Exercise with Small Children?
Telling mothers to get out more, to take friends to the gym and to find the time to exercise is always going to sound pretty patronising. For God’s sake, these women have grown a human life inside them for 9 months. They know that getting on a bike and riding it around the park counts as exercise. They know, too, that they could exercise on a static bike in front of the television when the baby is sleeping. Most mothers probably need additional hours in the day and a little support rather than ‘helpful’ advice on squeezing burpees in between breastfeeding.
But it’s worth reminding mothers of how important exercise is. Any parent can assume that that exercise is too demanding, too difficult, too expensive or too time-consuming to fit around raising a tiny human.
It isn’t, even when it seems as if it is.
You don’t have to sign up to a lengthy gym contract. Pay As You Gym allows you to buy short-term passes, allowing you to take advantage of them without the big financial commitment. You can go as little as you need to and just pay for the sessions where you turn up.
Think outside the gym, too. Exercise isn’t just slogging away on a treadmill or sweating in your headphones at the rack. Parks have outdoor gyms. They have walking trails, too. Gardening is exercise. Pushing a pushchair at a decent pace around a lake or into town counts, too. Small bursts of physical activity are fine if that’s all you can manage but start mentally preparing for when you’ll be able to be a little freer with your time.
You can buy specially designed running pushchairs designed for joggers. They’re lighter to push along and so are easier on the wrists.
Once the children are a little older start exercising with them. Swimming is a great way of doing this and so is bike riding. You might tire them out as well as yourself.
Don’t forget to ask for help with the children. It’s not selfish to take a little bit of personal time. Ask friends and family, your partner, whoever you trust and even if it’s just for 30 minutes get out and get exercising.
If your sleeping patterns are shot-to-shit, then you can take advantage of 24-hour or late-night gyms. Leave the baby sleeping with your partner and head off for a little physical activity.
Yoga is brilliant for doing at home. You just need a matt and some floor space. If you’re interested in developing a home practice whilst the children are asleep or distracted, we’d recommend Yoga With Adriene on YouTube. She has a TON of videos for all ages, abilities and issues. She’s a brilliant teacher. You don’t have to take it easy, either. Don’t underestimate how intense yoga can be.
Be creative about the kind of physical activity you want to do. If you only have 1 hour a week, then pick something you’re going to enjoy and look forward to. If you’d like to take up running (which can be done for free and in small pockets of time), we’d recommend the Couch 2 5K app developed by the NHS. You train three days a week for less than 30 minutes a time and by the end of it, you’ll be running for half-an-hour.
Mothers shouldn’t feel guilty about exercising. Taking some time out for yourself isn’t a selfish act. Often, it’s a very necessary one. And it’s not just about you but about showing your children how valuable and enjoyable exercise can be. So put your trainers on, pop a pair of sweat-proof covers onto your headphones and start exercising.
How do you balance being a mother and exercising? Drop us a comment below.