How Parents Can Stay Fit and Healthy
In a past life, I was a personal trainer and yoga teacher. I told people they had to prioritize their health and fitness, and I stand by that. But now that I'm a parent, I'm also much more open to the idea that sometimes life gets in the way and that's perfectly okay. I don't care what anyone says: Staying healthy and fit once you have kids is a daunting task.
While we can try our best, the truth is, there are always going to be times when your kids need you and it's simply more important than getting your sweat on or cooking that healthy dinner (#MeatlessMonday). Yes, you need to make yourself a priority. But it might not look like hours at the gym or maintaining the perfect bikini body. As a parent, like everything in your life, health and fitness have to be flexible. It's imperfect. It's hard.
Sometimes, it doesn't happen at all. But committing to your own health benefits not just you, but your entire family.
Here's a few simple ways to commit to your health even after you have a house full of kids.
Make Cooking a Family Affair
Cooking, rather than ordering in, saves money and calories. But trying to cook a three-course dinner with toddlers in the kitchen might be a lofty goal.
The reality is, our lives are so busy, and sometimes, it’s just going to be chicken nuggets and applesauce. But one simple way to get back to cooking healthy meals is to get your kids involved. Even small children can help in the kitchen in simple ways like washing veggies or practicing chopping with a dull knife. Kids love to mix, sprinkle and stir.
Yes, you have to get zen about a messy kitchen. But the beauty of teaching kids their way around it is that, eventually, you’ll have good helpers who won’t always rely on you to fix dinner single-handedly. While little kids can stir and set the table, the bigger they get, the more they can do.
Do Hard, Short Workouts
They seemed so far out of reach, you gave up altogether. But just because you can’t commit the same time you once did to exercise, doesn’t mean that you should call it quits.
Some studies show that hard, intense workouts are just as effective as longer ones. Yes, it’s great if you can get in a long workout once in a while, but with kids in the house, the time doesn’t always present itself. Make use of the wide array of workout videos on free sites like YouTube and workout from home for 30 minutes.
You can find everything from yoga, to HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts, cardio and more. It’s better than nothing and when you are challenging your body with new exercises, you might just be surprised by the results.
Invest in a Gym Membership With Childcare
While it’s a monthly investment, most parents say relying on a gym membership with childcare is a huge sanity-saver.
Having the time to workout without kids fussing, interrupting or jumping on your back while you’re in down dog is liberating. It can also feel like a much deserved break, which is only extra motivation to get to the gym in the first place.
Take Family Walks
One simple way to get more active is to take walks with your kids. Taking walks after dinner has been shown to help you digest your food faster and is effective at helping you lose more weight.
Make a practice of walking the dog together, go on nature walks in the morning or find a trail and start going on hikes on the weekend. Not only will you be committing to your own fitness goals and getting active at times when you otherwise wouldn’t be, but you’ll be teaching your kids how good it feels to lead an active life and spending time together in the process.
Keep Healthy Snack Options in Your Fridge
While making healthy meals is important, so are your snack choices. As busy parents, it becomes all too easy to reach for junk (especially when that’s all that’s around). But remember, the food you put into your body between meals has just as much of an impact on your body as the meals themselves.
Stock your fridge with healthy options like cut-up fruits and veggies, yogurts, hummus or another high-protein spread. Hard-boil eggs in advance for a quick and easy breakfast.
Buy bags of popcorn or pop it yourself (which is healthier than microwaveable popcorn because it doesn’t contain dangerous chemicals used to line the popcorn bags) for a great and low-calorie anytime snack.
Workout at the Playground
As long as you have eyes on your kids, the playground is actually the perfect place to not only keep your kids active, but also as a place for you to workout as well. While your kids are happily occupied, you’ve got a good 30 minutes or more to break into a sweat.
Practice your squats, lunges, push-ups and crunches, or even jump on the monkey bars for some pull-ups. There are tons of great workouts to be done using just the weight of your own body. But if you want to go the extra step, leave a pair of dumbbells in your car, so you can curl, press or row no matter where you are.
If you’re well-versed in a number of exercises, you can piece together your own workout, or follow along with a workout on your phone using an app or video. Technology makes it simple to workout anywhere. With your kids playing and the space to move, you might just make playground exercise part of your daily fitness plan.
Hire a Mother's (or Father's) Helper
Hiring a babysitter each time you want to exercise can get pricey, even if it’s only for an hour a day. But a mother’s (or father's) helper, usually a younger babysitter who is just starting out gaining experience with kids with a parent is home, is a great alternative.
While a mother’s helper might not be a good option for all daycare, it’s definitely a great option to get your sweat on.
Chances are, you can find a 12-year-old neighbor to watch your kids for a couple of dollars an hour, and more than likely, they’ll be more fun and engaging than a hungover college student anyway.
Always Make a Shopping List
One of the biggest health mistakes people make, especially busy parents, is not planning. Something simple, like going to the grocery store without a shopping list, can totally derail your healthy day or even week.
Ending up with a house full of sweet and salty snacks because you started grabbing things and throwing them in the cart when the kids started fussing can happen all too easily. Plus, when your kids are begging for all kinds of snacks, it’s that much easier to just give in when you don’t have a plan.
Take five minutes to make a list beforehand, and include your kids in the list-making, too. That way, you’ll be sure to include some of their favorites treats (within reason), and you can avoid the grocery store battles, too.
You’ll come home with healthier choices every time if you plan, make a list and stick to it.
Wake Up Early
If your kids are early birds, it can be tough to get up before they do. But having an hour to yourself in the morning, whether you use it to meal-plan, meditate, do a gentle yoga practice or a hard workout, will benefit you in so many ways.
It might be tough to get in the habit of rolling out of bed early, but it can help you sleep better at night, especially if you’re using the time to exercise.
Studies show that morning workouts are the best for your sleep habits, too, as opposed to exercising later in the day. You should fit your workout in whenever you can, but especially for those who have difficulty sleeping, the earlier you can get it done, the better for catching those Zs.
Break Up Your Workouts
Every day doesn’t provide an hour or even a half an hour to exercise. Sometimes, that’s just the way parenting goes, especially when you have little kids in the house. It might feel like the time to get fit will never appear. And the truth is, it might be a couple of years before you truly have a block of time each day to call your own.
Start small by breaking your workout up into 10-minute increments. Jog in place, perform jumping jacks, squats or push-ups leaning against your kitchen counter. If you can workout for just 10 minutes a few times a day, while you might not hit your fitness goals immediately, you’ll still be strengthening your body, getting an energy boost and giving your metabolism a little kick.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to do your workout all at once. So break it up and break a sweat.
Limit Your Alcohol Intake
We all have our vices. For many parents, whose lives can feel stressful and chaotic, cracking open a nightly beer or pouring a glass of wine is part of our routine. But too much alcohol can impact your body negatively in many ways.
More than one drink can disrupt your sleep patterns, cause weight gain, heart issues, or leave you feeling groggy or unfocused. When trying to meet health goals or simply practice good habits, make sure you limit your alcohol intake to more occasional use, abide by the one-drink-per-day rule and drink plenty of water to balance out your system.
Alcohol dehydrates you quickly, and so for every drink you have, you should have a glass of water to go with it.
Invest in a Food Delivery Service
If you’re having a hard time cooking, planning or meal-prepping, a delivery food service can be a huge help. There are many different plans and choices these days, and most offer healthy choices to make cooking quality meals simple.
Most delivery services come with fully prepped food, like chopped veggies and sauce packets that you simply have to throw in a skillet, and before you know it, dinner is served. While it’s an extra monthly investment, many parents rave that a healthy delivery food service like Blue Apron helps keep their family eating healthy on the regular without a lot of extra work.
It may not be a forever fix, but in the short-term, a delivery food service can help you create new, healthy habits. Also, think about the money you’ll save by avoiding ordering in or grabbing takeout a few times a week when you get home and realize the fridge is empty.
This option might just have you saving a good bit of money, time and calories. That’s a win-win-win.