To Exercise, or Not to Exercise:That is (ALWAYS) the Question.

Finding a balance between the duties of parenthood and making exercise a priority is hard. The time and effort it takes to get to a gym can be a big hurdle, while jumping on the treadmill after the kids are in bed for the night sounds extremely daunting. Parenthood does not leave a lot of extra free time for mothers or fathers, but I feel staying physically fit should be a priority.

Getting a Gym Membership

Last year I joined a gym and it was a great thing for my family (most days!). I love the feeling of getting in shape and making strides towards a healthier self. It is nice to be able to run or jog after my kids without getting breathless, and the flexible feeling of touching my toes while stretching is amazing. But with all good things, there is a downside. The time commitment for hitting the gym can be a drain on my patience as a mother and a wife. Exercising feels great, but also takes time away from freelance writing, household duties, and being with my kiddos. However, I also suffer if I skip working out and turn that into a week long trend of no exercise and feeling out of sorts.

I have done P90X and I love running/walking outdoors, but I have found that during the colder months of the year I need to join a fitness center (with a child watch area) in order to keep up my healthy habits. I love the social aspect associated with gym classes and also the variety of exercise options, such as: weight lifting, kickboxing, pilates and yoga. I stay home with my kids, so taking some “me time” at the gym feels really good.

Finding a Balance

Acquiring a gym membership allowed me to carve out an hour of exercise and also find a balance between staying home with my kiddos and doing something for myself. However, with all of the good intentions associated with staying in shape, there is also mom guilt. If I make it to the gym on a weekday morning I am proud of myself, but I also have nagging thoughts over leaving my son in the gym’s daycare center because he would rather be out playing with me. If I wait and go to the gym in the evening and leave the kids at home with my spouse, then I feel conflicted for abandoning my family in exchange for solitude, music listening, and good old-fashioned sweat. Plus as all parents know, evenings are hectic with dinner, extra-curricular activities, bed time routines, and more…so getting away during this time is sometimes more hassle than it is worth.

According to an article on WebMD titled, Parents Who Exercise: Overcoming the Challenges, there are a lot of parents who struggle with finding the time to work out after having kids because their outlook on life is different.

I once did a mud run, and my daughter thought it was hilarious.

“The priorities of a family just change,” says researcher Ethan E. Hull, an exercise physiologist candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. “The focus isn’t with your friends, it isn’t with yourself, it isn’t with your spouse; it’s with that child. Your own physical activity just isn’t as important as the attention you’re giving that child.”

I am not alone in the world when I feel the hassle of trying to balance exercise and parenting. It is hard to focus on oneself, when you have children demanding your attention and often wrapping their little bodies around your legs and torsos whenever you try to leave a room without them. The article explained how, “Even people who had a strong commitment to exercise before having children will struggle to find consistent time to stay fit once they become parents.”

Physical Fitness vs. Mom Guilt

Do I go work-out regularly? Usually yes, but I have been slacking when it comes to going to the gym. The tedious nature of dragging my toddler to the mini-van, buckling him into the car seat like a smooshed marshmallow, driving across town, pulling him out of his seat, and convincing him that he enjoys the child watch center is too much for me at times. It might be different if my son could recall en route to the gym, that he does in fact enjoy his time in the little kid’s play area. Because it is a fun place and the staff babysitters are super nice. However, my son maintains zero recall of past enjoyments until five minutes after actually being on-site. Thus the struggle to get in the gym door can be intense.

I need to find a personal balance that involves me going to the gym when it works, but also not beating myself up on the days I skip. The WebMD article offered similar insights. Brad Schoenfeld, a fitness trainer in Scarsdale, N.Y. said in the WebMD publication that, “It does not take a lot of time to achieve a basic level of fitness. People tend to think they need to spend hours on end at the gym. It’s the quality, not the quantity. With a 15- to 20-minute weight workout, you can achieve great benefits.”

It is good to hear that simple lifting exercises, stretching more, and practicing some squats and lunges in the living room can be great activity. For me, parenting and the journey towards a physically healthier self is a never-ending game of checks and balances. I always feel energized after a work-out, but it can come at the mercy of a toddler tantrum. I am also typically calmer and sleep better at night if I have exercised during the day, but my work-out may mean dinner is going to be late (or burnt).

Prioritizing fitness into an already hectic parenting schedule is hard, but in the end it is worth it. I know it makes me a better mother. This is a good outcome for me, my spouse, and most especially my children because they deserve the best version of me.

Does anyone else feel like a teeter-totter when it comes to balancing fitness goals with parenthood? I truly feel there is no perfect formula. Some days will go great for me and be full of physical exercise, and other times parenting or writing work will dictate that the only form of fitness comes by way of a thumb war wrestling match or vacuum cleaning marathon.

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