Before I had June, I had all the time in the world to exercise — I’d take a class in the morning, I’d go for a run at night. And sometimes, if I was feeling extra ambitious, I’d take a class in the morning and go for a run at night because I had way too much time on my hands (did I mention I like working out?).
But now that I’m a mom with a busy career, time to exercise has gone out the window. Between work, family and the ordinary responsibilities of adult life, there just isn’t time any more.
So I make time. I refuse to give it up! Forget about being able to fit into my jeans (though there is that, for sure), exercise helps me maintain focus, energy and creativity. It’s become such a habit, as ingrained as brushing my teeth, that I actually feel hungover if I go too many days without it. And my job as a writer is so solitary and sedentary, I’m sure I’d turn into Jaba the Hutt without it.
So I’ve had to become a lot more disciplined and structured in how I go about working out. What this has meant for me:
* I had to get over my old biases toward home fitness DVDs, long preferring the comraderie and competitive atmosphere of the gym. I now have a library of exercise DVDs ranging from belly dancing to boot camp, from Insanity to Shiva Rea. Some of these DVDs completely crazy and insane, but I don’t care — slipping in a DVD either first thing in the morning or last thing at night is usually the only time I have to sweat.
* I’m okay working out at odd hours. Last night I found myself wrapped up like a pretzel doing a yoga DVD at 11 p.m., after Jake, June and Solha were already asleep. Whatever it takes!
* Nap time is move time. No matter what else I have to do that day, when June goes down for a nap, I workout. Every thing else comes second — cleaning, laundry, bills, returning phone calls. I justify it by telling myself I’m a better mom for it. (Right? Right? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to say?) And thankfully, I’m blessed with a marathon napper — sometimes she’s out for three hours at a stretch.
* I loosened my definition of “working out” There was a time I thought running any less than three miles was a waste of my time, not even worth putting on a pair of sneakers for. And now I am hysterically proud of myself if I can squeeze out three miles. Go me! I now consider any sustained physical effort in which sweat is induced “exercise” — gardening, walking, processing chickens (ha!), Zumba. It doesn’t matter the form, as long as I’m breathing hard and moving my feet, I’m working out. I strive for some form of this seven days a week, but it usually works out to between five and six. (See the Centers for Disease Control physical fitness recommendations for adults here.)
* I mix it up. I never work out the same way too many days in a row because I find myself phoning it in and I eventually burn out (it’s why I don’t like Spinning — the same motion over and over and over…). Besides, working the same set of muscles over and over ceases to be challenging because it tones and strengthens muscles that are already strong and can cause the metabolism to lull. These days, I mix up yoga, Pilates, dance, running and strength training.
* I teach a fitness class. Teaching a fitness class here in town twice a week – a blend of strength training, barre work, dance and Pilates — helps me stay motivated and regimented.
* I pay a lot more attention to what I eat. I’ve always had a healthy diet but now that I sit more and exercise less I try to be even more aware of what goes into my mouth. And for me, that has meant a whole, natural (minimal processed food!) diet relatively high in fat and protein. Yes, fat! Fat gets such a bad rap in our culture but I find it and protein keeps me the fullest longest and I rarely have weird cravings for snacks and sugar as a result. But I’m not talking about Cool Ranch Doritos and Cinnabuns fat (though I definitely make allowances for those things once in a while)! The fat I eat is from whole, natural sources — eggs, nuts, cheese, avocadoes, and quality meats. (I’m not a vegetarian!) I make a point of never eating low-fat or no-fat anything because research shows you end up eating more of that stuff because of the health halo effect.
So those are my “tricks” for staying in shape while raising a family. But as you can see, there is nothing tricky about it — it’s just discipline and commitment. BORING! Ha!
How do YOU stay in shape? I’d love to know.