It crosses your mind from time to time. It may even be penciled in on your schedule. But it’s one of those things that falls off all too easily if you’re anything like me. Yup, I’m talking about exercise. Exercising with kids, to be precise – whether they join you or not!
We know it’s good for us. We may even want to do it, but somehow, between all the duties of our day, exercise somehow manages to fall off the list entirely. And then, there’s the kids. What do you do with them when you need to exercise? Or how do you motivate your older kids to get up and get moving with you?
Simply? It all starts with a decision. From there, a little planning, a little accountability, and a little incentive is all it takes to get your heart-rate moving, your muscles pumping, and your feel-good factor on the up-and-up.
Start off by having a good look at your day-to-day schedule and the ages and needs of your kids. Now ask yourself some questions, noting that together they’ll draw up a composite picture of what is realistic.
- What exercise do I / might I enjoy?
- Can I realistically do it?
- Do I have to block off a chunk of time, or can I do it in bits?
- If not, what are good alternatives?
- Do I need a sitter, or can I exercise with the kids?
- Can I exercise at home or during nap times?
- Realistically, can I get up early or head out late?
- If I need a sitter, what are my options? Sitter swap with a friend? Granny? Husband? Neighbour? Paid / unpaid?
- Who can I ask to be an accountability partner? Can we exercise together?
- What incentives will work for me? A 5k to work towards? Weight loss?
With a little bit of creativity, you can build exercise into just about any schedule with just about any age kids in the picture. Here are some ideas to get you going:
Babies and Little Kids
- Got a gym nearby that has a great childcare program? It may well be worth the bucks to join up there – plan in specific times two to five times a week and stick to it.
- Or, if you have a sitter, duck out and hit the local gym, CrossFit class, bike trail, or jogging path. If you need to stay home, consider a treadmill, home exercise videos on Youtube, or download an exercise app that doesn’t require any equipment or much space.
- Hoping for uninterrupted exercise time? The obvious answer is to aim for nap times and try any of the options above to get the heart rate up.
- If naptime won’t work, consider having the kids join you. Try to get outside. Throw the little kids into a stroller and baby in a baby carrier and off you go. One of the best kinds of exercise is interval training – quite simply, walk gently for a minute and a half and then walk or run your heart out for 30 seconds. Rinse and repeat for 10 or 20 minutes, building up speed and time as you become fitter. Preschoolers would love to join in with this!
- Head to the local park. Instead of sitting on the bench watching the kids play, get in there with them. Have races with your littlies. Push your kids in the swing. Challenge yourself to do burpees or squats between pushes.
- Can’t get outside? Have your littlies try copying your movements. Or google exercise videos that have baby as part of the workout – your very own little weight-training device! Get out some music and dance, dance, dance with your toddlers!
- Use lunch time to kill two birds with one stone. For every mouthful of food your toddler accepts, hit the floor and do a couple of push ups or squats. Your baby will get through that entire bowl purely for the reward factor in seeing you doing all your crazy moves on the kitchen floor!
- Not keen on tripping over littlies while you exercise? Allow the TV to babysit. If you’re like me and allow very limited TV time, consider coinciding your exercise time with their TV time.
Many of the suggestions above can be used with older kids too – get them included as much as possible. My kids range in age from 7 to 13 and we’ve done all manner of exercise activities together, including some of these ideas:
- Build an obstacle course and divide the family, Mom included, into teams. Have the teams complete as many laps of the course as possible in ten minutes. Include exercises like burpees, squats, and push ups between obstacles. Use the obstacles to further exercise. Jungle gyms are especially helpful – use those monkey bars for pull ups or simply swing hand-to-hand from one end to the other. This can be done at home or at the local park.
- Got a big space? Whether at the park or in your own yard, have the family play softball, baseball, rounders, or soccer. It doesn’t matter if everyone is terrible at it – just have fun.
- Got a basketball hoop outside? Go use it! Play DONKEY with the kids and build in other fun rules like having to dribble from one end of the driveway to the other before making a shot.
- Swimming? You don’t have to swim laps in an olympic-sized pool to get great exercise. Again, play with your kids. Even just walking back and forth in the water will give you a great workout.
- Get the entire family involved in housecleaning and make it fun. Put on some music and challenge everyone to a time cap. Fastest and cleanest completed job gets a prize (kisses from Mama?!). Or combine exercise with house-cleaning: give each child a few small 2-5 minute chores. Aside from a job well done, insist on a run around the house between chores or 10 jumping jacks. Make sure you do them, too – both for your wellness and their entertainment!
- Include the entire family – Dad, too! Weekends and weeknights are perfect for family walks or exercise outings. We often head out to the mountains to walk as a family. Some families go biking together. Join a local family sports club where kids and parents can join multi-aged softball or soccer teams. Don’t forget yard work together!
- Join up with other families and do early morning run-walks with the teens and tweens. Build up until you’re all running. A great way to do this is to join a local park run.
Over the years, exercise has been a fluctuating feature in my life as a busy mom of four. Here are some of the ways I kept exercising during these years:
- In the baby days, I was able to make use of the local gym’s babysitting facility while I put in an hour of exercise.
- As the kids got a little older and homeschooling took up more time in the day, not to mention the financial need to cut expenses, I had to find other options. In came an inexpensive exercise bike and some dumbbells. Following an online basic weight-lifting program allowed me to keep things pumping in the early mornings. To keep the kids busy, I’d have them watch a short something while I exercised. And to keep my boredom at bay, I would listen to podcasts or sermons or watch 20 minutes of a series while pumping away at the bike in interval sprints.
- I moved from the indoor bike to road running when the kids were a bit older. Sometimes they would join me. They’d bike to the park while I ran alongside. While they played, I’d run the track around the park.
As with most forms of exercise I’ve tried over the years, there were periods of lots of activity and lots of periods of inactivity! Sometimes, motivating myself out of bed was just not happening. Without an accountability system in place, I am all too susceptible to pulling the pillow over my head and going back to sleep.
For some years I combated that problem with a running partner. A friend who lived down the road would get me up a few mornings a week for a run and a great chat. It was so good to see her that I didn’t mind the early hours! But when she moved, I needed to consider my options more closely. What would keep me from slipping into inactivity?
By this time, I had discovered CrossFit. A nearby CrossFit Box + kids old enough to cope without mom for an hour + a little more wriggle room in the budget = the perfect combination for 3-times-a-week of CrossFit fun. With set class times, it is easy to stick to the schedule. Planning? Check! Accountability? Check! Knowing that there is a bunch of great people expecting me to pitch up keeps me accountable. Incentive? Well, when you’re paying for something, somehow there is that extra incentive to make the most of it. Plus, beating my previous scores is enough incentive for this self-competitor! Check for incentive, too!
I’m sure that my exercise habits will morph and change as the seasons of life adjust in the years ahead. And I imagine that yours will too. Each time we find ourselves having to switch things up to accommodate life, let’s remember this list and all the wonderful options we do have to get us and moving!