With a full-time job, kids, family activities, and other events, it’s not always easy to fit exercise into a working mom’s schedule. The US Government’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that US adults get 2 1/2 hours of moderate intensity exercise each week or 1 1/2 hours of high intensity exercise. In addition, the CDC recommends muscle-strenthening activities on 2 or more days each week.
Many people believe that if you’re busy, it’s difficult to find time for exercise on top of work and family committments. I agree that it isn’t easy, but I maintain an exercise regimen that includes 3 hours of brisk walking (about 40 minutes, 5 days a week) and an hour of yoga 4 to 5 times a week. Here are some strategies I use to meet (and exceed) the government’s physical activity guidelines.
One: Make Exercise a Regular Part of Your Schedule
Fitting the walking into my exercise regimen is pretty easy, because it’s a regular part of my commute. I work in downtown Chicago and travel there on the region’s Metra rail system. The Metra train drops me off in the West Loop, about 1 1/4 miles from my office. I walk the rest of the way to work.
Yes, it was difficult to walk to work the first few weeks. But I lost 10 pounds from all the walking when I started working downtown. And now I walk so quickly that it actually takes only 5 minutes longer than cabbing it to the office and less time than riding the bus. My door-to-door time on public transit is less than the time it takes for me to drive to work, find parking in the garage, pay for parking, and walk from the the garage to my office.
I run my lunchtime errands on foot and go for a coffee on foot, because I don’t have a car. That’s more time spent on brisk walking.
You may not be commuting on public transit, but perhaps you can bike to the grocery store, like one mom in my neighborhood, or walk the kids to school. Walking instead of driving may not cost you as much time as you think.
Two: Use Your Lunch Hour for Exercise
Unless I’m very busy at work, I try to exercise on my lunch hour at least once or twice a week. Since my favorite form of strength-building exercise is yoga, that’s what I do. Before I took up the yoga, I went to the gym to lift weights. On days when I plan to exercise, I show up to work early and bring a brown-bag lunch to eat at my desk.
Rather than being another chore I have to fit in, lunchtime yoga is something I look forward to. I’m now disappointed if work other other committments mean keep me from seeing my favorite teacher.
When I don’t have enough time at lunch for a yoga class, I at least try to get out of my building and go for a short walk around the neighborhood. There is certainly no shortage of interesting lunch-hour destinations in downtown Chicago, and going for a walk is one of the more common ways my coworkers spend their lunch hour.
Three: Make Use of Time Spent Waiting
I’ve dropped my daughter off at her Y swim lessons, which last about 45 minutes. I could sit in the lobby and watch the lesson or go upstairs to the weight room. If I haven’t gotten in my exercise fix that day, I might try heading up to the weight room for half an hour. If I’m waiting for a lacrosse practice, I can find a quiet spot a bit away from the other parents and practice some yoga or do pushups, core strengtheners, lunges, and triceps dips.
Four: Make Exercising as Convenient as Possible
When I went to the gym to lift weights, I picked the gym across the street from my office. It wasn’t the best gym in downtown Chicago, but the fact that it was so close meant I could go more often. When I worked in the suburbs and swam on my lunch hour, I picked the closest pool to my office. Now that I’m doing yoga, I’m heading for (you guessed it) the studios that are closest to my house and office. I like the Y as our “family gym,” because it is 5 minutes from the house and next to the train station.
For years, I’ve kept a gym bag underneath my desk. I stock it with a week’s worth of exercise clothes, bring it in on Monday, and bring it home on Friday. That way, I’m always ready to head out for exercise at a moment’s notice.
Five: Be Ready to Exercise at Home
Although I fit in about an hour of yoga 4-5 times a week, but I don’t do all that yoga in the studio. Several months ago, I started hiring my favorite yoga instructor for private sessions once every 6 weeks or so. She gives me a regimen that’s tailored just to my needs, as well as lots of useful tips on how to do poses better. I write down the routine she gives me as soon as I’m finished and use the notes to exercise at home. Before I hired the yoga instructor, I relied on free or low-cost podcasts from Yoga Journal and iTunes for my home practice.
Although I don’t own a treadmill, I do have yoga mats, some yoga blocks, a strap, and a couple of blankets. A collection such as this can be had for less than $100.
Before yoga, I hired a personal trainer at my gym to give me an at-home strength-training regimen. I specified that I wanted a workout that required as little equipment as possible, and she gave me exercises that relied on my own body weight, common furniture such as the kitchen table, resistance bands, and an exercise ball. While hiring a personal trainer might seem like a luxury, the one-time cost for her time, about $100, and the recommended equipment was much less than for an exercise bike.
Six: Let the Kids in on the Fun
Sometimes, my son likes to join me upstairs while I’m practicing yoga. I don’t get quite as vigorous a workout doing yoga with kids, but it’s fun for both of us. I keep an extra yoga mat handy just in case one of the kids wants to join me, and they are always welcome.
On nice weekend days, I take the kids to the playground if I’m looking for an excuse to walk somewhere. In the winter, we go to the pool at the Y on weekend afternoons.
Seven: Turn Off the TV
Probably the reason I’m able to find time to exercise for an hour at home is that I don’t watch very much TV. We have two TVs and four people in the house, and it seems that I always have last dibs on the remote. But I’m OK with that, because I’d rather be reading a book or doing yoga. All told, I probably don’t sit down and watch more than an hour or two of TV a week. So if you find yourself watching TV every night, try going for a half-hour walk before you turn it on.