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Fitness: Staying Active When You Have Young Children

Introduction

Even people who are very determined to keep up their healthy habits can lose them after they have children. Youngsters can demand so much of your time that you barely have time to breathe, let alone be physically active.

But there are ways to stay active that don't require a lot of extra time. You just need to figure out how to work activity into the other parts of your life.

How can you fit physical activity into your schedule?

Having a young child doesn't leave you much time for yourself. There are ways to get active as a family. Or you can get your exercise in small chunks. Three 10-minute periods of activity spread throughout the day are just as good as one 30-minute period. Find the time that works best for you and your family.

When your child is asleep

This is a good time to look to your own needs and your own health. Getting in some activity while your child is napping, or after he or she has gone to bed for the night, may work best for you.

  • If you can afford to buy a treadmill or an exercise bicycle, this is the time to hop on. Watch your favorite TV show to make the time go faster. Or read a book or magazine while you exercise.
  • If exercise equipment is not in your budget, try an exercise video. You can check them out for free at your local library. Or watch your favorite TV show while you jump rope, do stretching exercises, or do yoga. Use cans of food as hand weights. Or try exercising with rubber tubing or resistance bands.
  • Certain chores—like washing windows or floors—count as moderate activity, because they raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster.
  • For chores that don't raise your heart rate, like running the vacuum or dusting, turn on some music and dance while you do them.

When your child is awake

When young children are awake and active, you may find it easier if you break your physical activity into little chunks of time. The key is to think of ways to make your child part of that activity.

  • At home:
    • Do stomach crunches with your baby on your belly or your thighs. Or lift your baby up and down as you lie on your back. You can find lots of other exercises like this on the Internet or at the library.
    • Turn up the music, and dance around the house. Children love to dance and will happily join you.
    • Take your children outside while you garden. Use a stroller or playpen if you need to.
  • In the neighborhood:
    • Go for a walk. Get a backpack or stroller so your very young child can go with you on walks. Check online for stroller-friendly fitness or walking programs in your area. There are websites, such as www.seemommyrun.com, that help parents find or start local stroller-pushing groups or running or walking groups.
    • While your children ride their bikes around the neighborhood, jog alongside them.
    • If it's in your budget, get a trailer for your bicycle so that you can take your child (toddler age or older) with you on bike rides. Look carefully into the safety features of bike trailers before you buy.
      • Babies aren't strong enough to handle the bumpy ride in a bike trailer. When children are old enough to run or climb, which may not be until about age 2, they are probably strong enough to ride in a bike trailer.
      • Children in bike trailers should wear helmets.
  • At the park or playground:
    • Instead of sitting on the park bench while your children play, walk or run laps around the play area. You can still keep an eye on the kids.
    • Join your child on the playground. Swinging from the monkey bars is great for shoulders and upper body strength.
    • If your child plays on a soccer or T-ball team, walk or run laps around the field during practice and during games. If you need to be close enough to cheer, pace up and down the sidelines.
    • Play games like tag, hide and seek, and catch with your kids.
  • At the gym or community center:
    • Join an exercise or swim class for parents and kids.
    • Find a gym or center that has child care so that you can exercise on your own.

Other ideas

  • Share babysitting duties with your spouse, another relative, or a neighbor. That way, you'll each get some time for yourself.
  • If you work outside the home, exercise at work or on the way to and from work.

Credits

Current as of: May 5, 2019

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
John Pope, MD, MPH - Pediatrics


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