Self-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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!)
- 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.
- 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.