I’m occasionally asked how I find time to exercise, which isn't a bad question, considering that I’m already juggling a busy job, a long commute, two small but energetic kids, a decade-long marriage, friendships with actual human beings, a full-to-bursting TiVo, and a towering pile of unread New Yorker magazines on my nightstand.
The answer? I do my best to make time.
I’m no masochist, but every morning at 5:30, I stagger out of bed, down a bite or two of Greek yogurt (and a big handful of vitamins), and start my workout. I try to finish before 7 a.m., when the rugrats climb out of bed and start engaging in activities that demand parental attention, like climbing atop dressers, pooping, and demanding to listen to Timbaland or The Velvet Underground on iTunes (not all at the same time, thankfully).
It goes without saying, but being a parent takes priority above all else. M and I are fully devoted to our boys, and we both agree that raising our kids to be happy, curious, balanced, sociable, emotionally-balanced adults is probably the most important goal we'll ever set for ourselves.
But we also recognize that health and nutrition are important, and that having kids isn’t mutually exclusive of exercising and eating right. For those of you who've emailed me for tips on balancing personal health with parenthood, here are some things that have worked for me:
- Get into home fitness. You don't have time to go to the gym -- so work out at home. Quit your gym membership, and with the money you'll be saving, buy a set of adjustable dumbbells or resistance bands, a yoga mat, and a pull-up bar. You won't have to waste any more time driving to and from the gym or waiting your turn for a go at the cable row machine. Plus, you can stop worrying about gym towel germs.
- Exercise with your children. Who says you have to sacrifice your time with your kids in order to burn calories? Exercise with the munchkins (in the backyard! at the park! in your living room!). Dance with them. Have your little ones bike (or trike) alongside you as you go for a run. Race them and chase them. Take 'em on a hike. Work out at the playground while your tykes are clambering up and down the slides. (If you don't mind looking ridiculous, while pushing your kid on a swing, do a deep squat between each shove.) And there's no rule against introducing your children to your home workouts: Let them hop up and down on your Bosu balance trainers while you exercise, or have them do Wacky Jacks while watching "Tony & The Kids." (Before you ask:Exposure to Tony Horton does not constitute child abuse.) My five-year-old likes climbing on my back while I do push-ups.
- Exercise whenever, wherever. Like during your commute. Or squeeze in some yoga when you're at your desk. Years ago, I ditched my office chair for a stability ball -- you might want to give that a shot, or make/buy yourself a standing desk. And instead of mindlessly surfing the web during your lunch hour, hit the gym or go for a quick run. Yes, work can be all-consuming and stressful, but the best remedy may be to exercise your tension away.
- Work out when your kids are asleep. Children should be getting a lot more sleep than their parents, which means most folks should have a few solid kid-free hours each day. The typical counterargument: “But I need that time to get stuff done around the house!” Yes, there are chores you need to do after the ankle-biters are knocked out. But admit to yourself that you’re: (1) not spending all your kid-free moments doing laundry and picking up toys; and (2) you’re spending at least an hour a day doing less-than-important crap, like updating your Facebook status, watching SportsCenter or illegally downloading the Justin Bieber album.
- Schedule your workouts (preferably first thing in the morning). Life has a way of derailing you from the best-laid of plans. So go to bed early and get up at the crack of dawn to squeeze in a workout -- before anything can get in the way of your daily exercise. Keep yourself accountable to your workout schedule; don’t squander the time you've set aside for getting and staying healthy. Treat exercise just as you treat eating, sleeping, and flossing; it’s a non-negotiable, routine part of your day.
- Don’t skip your workout just because you don’t think you can fit it all in. Don’t have 90 minutes to do yoga today? Do 45 minutes. You only have 50 minutes to spare and your workout video takes an hour? Skip the cool-down. Do something. A shorter workout is better than no workout at all.
- Watch what you eat. Not surprisingly, folks tend to eat more and pack on the pounds once they have kids. If you’ve just had a baby, you’re likely not getting much sleep. You’re physically and mentally drained. I've been there, and totally get it if you can’t bring yourself to work out with any frequency. (It's not impossible, though -- just look at Fitness Ninja, a new dad who's still exercising religiously.) Still, that doesn’t mean you should compound the problem by eating mindlessly. Stick to a healthy diet. And if you have older kids, don’t munch on the nutritionally-deficient snacks that you shouldn’t have bought for them (but did). And remember that you don’t have to: (1) give in to your toddlers’ every food-related whim, or (2) finish what they leave on their plates. (By the time they're done slobbering and gnawing on it, it's not all that appetizing, anyway.)