It seems like a hundred years ago when my kids were little. At one point, I had four children under age 6. There were days when I not only questioned my sanity but my ability to squeeze in any meaningful time for myself. In fact, I was so tired that even thinking about exercising accelerated my exhaustion and therefore exercise landed, once again, at the bottom of my priority list.
Twenty-seven years ago, I lost 50 pounds and have pretty much kept it off, sans pregnancy. Since that time I have dedicated myself to inspiring and educating the "Eighth Wonder of the World" aka mothers, on ways to stay fit, focused and flexible. As a mom, business owner, author and fitness expert, I get it. I understand that as a parent, time is as precious as gold and in my humble opinion, worth much more.
Since my first pregnancy, I have always been mindful of taking care of myself so I would be better equipped to take care of others, most importantly my kids. Further, I wanted to be a good role model for them. For my three boys, I wanted them to know, "Moms work out, too!" For my daughter, I wanted her to appreciate the importance of taking care of her body in all stages of life.
Attention on you isn’t selfish
Being a mom means making sacrifices and putting the things we once believed important on the back burner. In some cases we have no choice, it’s our maternal responsibility, but in other instances, we certainly can modify.
As a health and fitness professional, I have witnessed the coming and going of hundreds of fitness and weight loss trends. Some are sensible, while others are just downright dangerous.
However, the one aspect of healthy living that has never wavered for me is the understanding that exercise doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. In other words, there will be days you are able to get to the gym or do your exercise video or go for a walk with your neighbor.
However, there are also those days that fall apart and between work, playgroup, teacher conferences and so on, exercise gets lost. The upside is that you can still take a minute and reconnect with your body and get some exercise in, regardless of time.
Remember, the biggest contributor to our growing girth in this country is lack of unintentional activity, things like cleaning our own homes, mowing our lawns, walking more and hanging laundry. Think about it, the activity that our grandmothers and, in some cases, mothers did are no longer part of our daily activity. That means our caloric expenditure frequently comes from only intentional activity, such as going to the gym. Therefore, you need to find ways to kick up your daily activity level without letting limited time ruin your good intentions.
So from one busy mother to another, the following are the secrets I’ve discovered over the years that can keep you strong and fit without feeling the guilt of missing that Boot Camp class.
Kick back, put your feet up and let the seated leg lifts commence.
When time is limited think about intensity. For weight training, if your time is limited, simply increase the amount of weight you lift. You’ll reduce your repetitions yet increase your intensity.
This philosophy applies to cardio activity as well. Kick up the intensity by adding more speed or resistance whether your activity of choice is walking, running, biking, etc.
Think about it: better to take 10 minutes and get your heart pumping or muscles pumping than to sit around and feel guilty that you don’t have an hour to dedicate to a class or walk. It’s better to do a little something than a lot of nothing.
Being sneaky can be good for you
If you literally have no more than a five-minute block, then it’s all about creativity. In other words, find creative ways to sneak exercise in.
n You can get in some great ab exercises either before bed or first thing in the morning. Some moms I work with sneak sit-ups in during their child’s favorite TV program. More often than not, kids sit on mom’s tummy adding some serious resistance to kick up the ab exercise intensity.
n Push-ups don’t have to be done in the gym. Something as basic as push-ups can be done on the counter, on the washer or dryer and even your desk.
For example, when you’re making lunch for the kids, why not use the counter top for some quick push-ups. Just don’t forget the importance of proper form. For push-ups remember, tight core, flat back, hands shoot out directly from your chest, shoulder length apart. And if you want to bring in your triceps, angle your fingers towards each other.
n Tricep dips are a great exercise to do on a chair, a bench or anything that is about the same height as your rear end. Use good form and sneak a few dips in at the office, during nap time or even while making dinner. I did that more than once on my kitchen chair when my days completely fell apart.
n Dentists tell you to spend two minutes brushing your teeth. What better way to time your brushing than by doing lunges. One minute per leg. You have then killed two birds with one stone, great legs along with great oral hygiene.
n Interval walking is a great way to kick up activity. Whether you’re walking to school, to the train or from your car to the store, try intervals. Intervals simply mean taking your heart rate up and down during the duration of your activity. Start walking at your regular pace and then kick it up to a higher level for about 30 seconds. Continue doing this until you’ve reached your destination.
n If you are at work or taking a phone call at home, place a Thera-Band around your ankles and do some lower body work. Using a Thera-Band under your desk is super subtle. I use them when I’m on a plane or if I have to drive for an extended period of time (I’m the passenger, not the driver). Thera-Bands are very inexpensive and can be found just about anywhere on the Internet or in your favorite sports store. Typically, there will be lower leg exercise instructions that come with the bands. It’s a great lower body workout whether you have a lot of time or limited time.
Adopt an 80/20 rule
No matter where you are in your fitness journey, a beginner or a weekend athlete, exercise can fit in to your life. You just need to be realistic about your time and what’s available to you. We all know that we’d like to be more active but motherhood brings many turns and twists in the road.
Don’t dismiss exercise because you can’t make it to the gym or meet your friend for an hour-long walk. Squeeze it in, be creative and understand that exercise isn’t successful based on time but on intention. Sure, it would be ideal to get in an hour a day five to six days a week but the reality is we have to allow for life and be able to roll with the flow.
One mindset that works well for many of the moms I work with is remembering the 80/20 rule—80 percent of the time do the best you can to be active and eat well and 20 percent of the time is life and you have to allow for that margin of error. So cut yourself some slack and understand that exercise doesn’t have to be cut from your life, simply tweaked.
My son once asked me, "How come mommies know everything?" Well, we definitely know how to be great to others but sometimes we fall short of being great to ourselves. So take care of yourself and be reasonable in your expectations. Only then will you find a nice balance and be better equipped to take care of those that think you’re simply wonderful, at least until they hit 13.
Nicki Anderson is a mom, author, owner of The Reality Fitness Personal Training Studio in Naperville and the 2008 IDEA International Personal Trainer of the Year.