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Fitness for Moms (and Other Busy People)

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ENG151196034  01Self-care, at least the way we’ve defined it for our Month of Self-Care, is about learning to love and care for your body—flaws and all. That means before you go on any long-planned diets or run your first marathon.

So if we’re supposed to love ourselves just the way we are, where does fitness come in?

Some people love being physically fit and truly enjoy exercise. I’m not one of those people—and, even at my thinnest and fittest, never have been. But fitness is an important part of taking good care of your body and feeling confidence and pride about the way you look.

1. Cut the Guilt before You Cut the Fat

Fitness gives you the opportunity to define your body, but it won’t turn your body into a blank slate. No matter how much weight I lose and how many sit-ups I do, my stomach will never be completely flat and stretch-mark free. Not ever. No amount of resolve, commitment, and sacrifice can hide the visible signs of my motherhood. And I have to learn to be okay with that.

I saved a post on fitness for moms until the end of our Month of Self-Care on purpose because we all need to get to a place where we love who we see in the mirror, even if we’d like to improve the way we look and feel. A fitness regimen based on guilt and shame might work, but it just isn’t good self-care.

2. Prioritize

My body at its ballet best

My body at its ballet best

When I got married, I weighed 10-15 pounds less than I did when I started high school ten years earlier. That’s because I’d spent every moment of my free time the last year of graduate school dancing. I loved the way ballet made me look and feel. Eight or more hours of dancing a week made me the fittest and thinnest I’ve ever been. And I’m ever likely to be.

I know I can improve my physical fitness. And I am improving, slowly but surely. But I also know that it will be many years before I have eight or more hours a week to dedicate to physical fitness again. As a wife and a mom, my free time is a precious resource—I want to balance my needs for rest and personal growth with my need for physical fitness.

What is your most important fitness goal?

When our resources are limited, prioritizing is key. Focus on the things that make you feel best, even if that means your arms stay untoned or you never manage a half-marathon. I may not have the free time to rebuild my dancing physique, but I can prioritize the results of dancing that made me feel the best.

This year, I’m focusing on improving my posture. I’m hoping to get rid of some chronic pain in my neck and shoulders, reduce the odds of having joint problems when I’m older, and be able to carry myself with more confidence and grace. Improving my posture is a realistic fitness priority because it has measurable results and a fairly quick payoff.

Here’s how I’m hoping to reach my goal:

  1. Learn what good posture looks like. I’m learing to keep my ears, shoulders, and hips aligned when I’m standing and to keep my shoulders back when I sit.
  2. Build my core. The stronger my abs are, the better my posture will be. And the better my posture, the stronger my abs will get.
  3. Practice good ergonomics. I’m finding places and postures in my life to prevent the repetitive motion strain of standing while I teach and sitting when I write. My biggest challenge? Making sure the soles of my feet should touch the floor, even though I’m short.
  4. Make space in my day. Realistically, I’m not going to devote a whole block of my limited free time to exercise. But I can make exercise a part of my day in other ways.

3. Make Space in Your Day

The best way to build positive habits is to make building them a part of your life. That’s why I’m looking for ways to incorporate my posture-building goal into my days. Here are a few ideas that have worked for me:

  1. Program reminders into my day. I move my shoulders forward, up, and back to correct the way I’m standing any time I see someone with good or poor posture. (I’m trying to find a less-offensive cue, like correcting my posture whenever I see the color red, but I haven’t gotten there yet.
  2. Multi-task during floor time. When I’m crawling around on the floor with Thomas, I do at least one set of 15 crunches. He loves to sit on my abdomen and smile at me every time my head comes up off the floor.
  3. Mommy-baby exercise DVDs. Mommy-baby exercise worked better before Thomas was mobile, but it’s still a good option for mothers with small children. We both really enjoyed a mommy-baby yoga DVD that we did together every afternoon for a few months.
  4. Walk. When the weather is warm enough, Thomas and I walk to the library and to the metro to meet Adam after work. (I wouldn’t advise walking to people who don’t live in walkable neighborhoods. It can be dangerous!)
  5. Take advantage of gym child-care. A local gym has childcare on weeknights. When Adam takes his once-a-week boys’ night out, I can exercise while Thomas plays with other children. Many YMCAs offer childcare and inexpensive memberships.
  6. Evening exercise courses. I don’t have the self-control to give up girls’ night out to use my once-a-week chance for Adam to babysit for exercise. But the county we live in has many inexpensive exercise courses after Thomas goes to bed. In the spring, I’m planning to start karate!

How do you make fitness a part of your life? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

8 responses »

  1. Great post! I love the video:) so funny

  2. Also love the video. Looks like me and my youngest. Except that Thomas didn’t start trying to remove your top in a quest to nurse, as that is so obviously what is supposed to happen when you’re laying down!!!

    It’s been difficult, but like you say, first you have to dump the guilt about making time for yourself. For me, that’s always been the biggest hurdle. I should be doing the dishes… so-and-so wants me to play another board game… I shouldn’t ask hubby to babysit for me… etc. etc. We have to learn to be selfish (if you can even call it that) once in a while. I mean, really, would your husband even think twice if it was something he wanted to do? We need to take a cue from the men sometimes, ladies! They are soooooo blissfully unriddled with guilt and quite innocently so! 🙂

    • Honestly, I’ve already dumped most of the guilt about taking time for myself. It’s just that I would rather spend my hard-won free time on something I actually enjoy–which, unfortunately, doesn’t include exercise.

      And my husband is actually worse than I am about taking time off. I recently told him Thomas and I are going out to dinner without him once a week whether he likes it or not!

  3. This is a very good post. And the video is too cute! I am passionate about women making time for physical activity in their busy lives. It is simply one of the best things that a person can do to take care of her body, mind and spirit. I don’t see it as selfish in any way – God has given us one body and it is our responsibility to take excellent care of it. I could go on for hours about all of the great things that regular physical activity does for our bodies and the research that backs it up! One thing that isn’t discussed as often is the positive effects on depression, which can be significant. Thanks for sharing this. I have enjoyed your series on self-care.

    • Thanks for the positive feedback! Better management of my depression is part of my goal in finding realistic fitness goals and ways to fit exercise into my life.

  4. since you love dancing, you have lots of good reasons to be hopeful that you will learn to like (and maybe even love?) exercise as time goes on. For years I counted myself as someone who hates exercise. I’ve been using workout videos for the past year and by now I genuinely look forward to my workouts and I feel pretty rockstar when I figure out a new routine or move. Exercise does feel like some of my best self-care. I’m at the darkest end of the dissertation tunnel, and it sometimes I feel absolutely ruled by anxiety. When I exercise regularly, other things fall into place too (usually), like cooking real meals, tidying up, dressing nicely, etc. Keep it up!


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