Parents prioritizing exercise
Why we should just run
Don’t let exercise be the first thing you eliminate when you are feeling the crunch because it might be what you need to maintain your balance and sanity.
– Carson Tate
When we parents travel on planes, we are reminded to put our oxygen masks on first. As a health and fitness coach, I trot out this admonition to my clients on a regular basis. It’s not trite; it’s imperative. Parents need every bit of energy we can muster to care for our kids and help them thrive. But society suggests that we answer work emails into the wee hours of the night, attend every soccer practice and dance recital, chug mass quantities of coffee and wine alternately as the going gets tough. Exercise seems like one more thing on our to-do list, one that can easily be ignored with no major catastrophe. But it’s part of being a good parent, not extra.
It sounds like a silly question, but it can’t hurt to remind ourselves of the benefits, especially those we may not think of immediately.
Regular exercise will, perhaps counter-intuitively, improve your stamina, not detract from it. You will feel stronger, you will sleep better and your mood will improve. Exercise enhances the body’s ability to transfer glucose and oxygen throughout your brain and body (thenextweb.com).
Vigorous exercise can also lower colon and breast cancer risk and provide protection against heart disease, stroke and diabetes and generally boost immunity. Not to mention the small detail of maintaining a healthy weight.
Regular exercise not only helps stabilize moods by releasing endorphins but also raises your confidence by adding a feeling of agency – as parents and as citizens of the world, we can sometimes feel powerless and overwhelmed. Participating in activities that are challenging and invigorating empowers us.
If it was a pill, you’d take it, right? Though we’re likely all convinced that exercise is good for us, it’s a matter of translating that knowledge into a habit.
Yoga classes, CrossFit or a personal trainer may be your neighbor’s answer to exercise, but many parents have unpredictable work and family demands and cannot set aside the time or money these require on a regular basis. In an instant, a surprise conference at school or orthodontist bill can make your best-laid plans fall to the wayside.
Running is a free, high-intensity aerobic activity that you can do anytime. It may be the simplest way to incorporate exercise into a parent’s life. It’s cheap. All you need is some good shoes and gym clothes – and maybe some extra layers when the weather gets cold. (Remember: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”) You already know how to do it. You don’t need to be especially coordinated. (This may or may not have been the initial draw for this writer, historically unsuccessful at team sports and choreography.) And, speaking of coordination, perhaps the most compelling reason for parents to choose running: you don’t have to coordinate with a gym schedule – when you have time to run, you go.
If you need more convincing, consider the health benefits running provides.
Blasts calories and is good for your heart (womenshealthmag.com).
• Strengthens your brain. Running actually triggers neurogenesis, or the formation of new brain cells, in the hippocampus – the center of learning and memory. It also increases blood flow to the frontal lobe, the center of planning, focus and time management and emotional regulation (New York magazine).
• Improves work/life balance. Regularly making time for runs (which you can do, because it’s on your schedule, not the gym’s) helps parents become better at time management – and shows your kids that you prioritize exercise.
• Builds resilience as you acclimate to working through discomfort. Moms who have delivered a baby are already quite familiar with this discipline. As parenthood goes on, we could all use a little more ease with bouncing back.
• Is safe. Though you should consult your doctor before beginning a new course of physical activity, for most people, extra weight is a much more serious threat to joints than running. Running actually strengthens the ligaments around joints as well as bones. Just remember to look both ways when crossing the street.
• Even if you can run on your own schedule, it can be hard to find time. So
• Get off social media and go to bed earlier so you can wake up rested. Though you may think you’re unwinding, this type of socializing doesn’t feed you and screen time gets in the way of sleep patterns.
• Find a run buddy. Enlist a fellow mom or dad who lives nearby and whose company you enjoy. Even if you aren’t able to talk much at first.
• Find something fun to listen to. Download some power ballads like “Eye of the Tiger” or “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” to make your run really epic.
• Start with walking. Run for brief intervals interspersed with walking. Carrie Ward, who will be running in the NYC marathon this fall, started several years ago with Abe’s Army, utilizing running coach Jeff Galloway’s “Run Walk Run” method (www.jeffgalloway.com/training/run-walk) – which builds confidence because it enables you to finish a distance, even before you’re able to run the whole way.
• Schedule runs for when you have the most energy and won’t be interrupted. Though you may not consider yourself a morning person, scheduling runs for first thing in the morning ensures that unexpected delays don’t sabotage your best-laid plans. If mornings aren’t an option, plan runs for a time when you know your kids (or boss) will be occupied. Justin Holmes, formerly of Springfield, now of Cedar Falls, Iowa, says he runs late at night. “It started after kid number one – I would go after my son went to bed. I like running late because it is cooler and nobody is out. It’s a way to blow off steam and channel energy in productive directions. I like the sense of accomplishment.”
More tips for runners with kids
Kill two birds with one stone. Run to the supermarket to grab last-minute dinner ingredients or to pick up a prescription. A pedometer will help you nail your distance goals in short bursts.
No child care? Buy a running stroller and take your kid for the ride of his or her life. Pick up kids from school or neighborhood play dates and be home in a flash.
Not sure what time you’ll get to run on a busy weekend? Put on your running tights and sneakers first thing and be ready to head out the door at a moment’s notice.
Catch up on a favorite podcast or audio book while you run. Bonus: fitter body and brain!
Ann Farrar credits her running stroller with saving her sanity as a new mom, and audible.com for helping her reach current distance goals. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.