How to find time to exercise when you work and have kids
How do working moms find time to exercise?
Before kids, I made it to the gym pretty regularly. My Pilates workout videos and yoga mat were not just sitting around the house collecting dust.
After having a baby… well, things were different.
Most working moms know the struggle of wanting to find time to exercise with the reality of not having enough time to actually fit exercise into their daily routines.
It makes total sense.
You want to lose those last 10 lbs of pregnancy weight or fit into your pre-baby clothes. Maybe you just want to be healthier!
But you also have a full-time job and kids and a household to take care of: dinners to make, a kitchen to clean, laundry to do (and then even more laundry…it’s seriously never ending in our house).
I’ve been there. I AM there. But, we can do this.
Don’t have time to read it all? Here’s a quick summary for how working moms can find time to exercise:
- Make it a priority
- Figure out when you can fit exercise into your schedule
- Have a goal and a plan
- Keep track of your progress
- Start slow and start small
- Mix up your activity
- Don’t beat yourself up if your plan falls through – try again tomorrow
- Remember that any activity is better than no activity
- If you have limited time, make that time matter
- When all else fails, just get up and do the Hokey Pokey!
Why is Exercise Important?
You probably have your own reasons for wanting to fit exercise into your daily life. They may even be the same as some of the ones I listed earlier.
Those are super important to help you stay motivated.
And I’ll give you another reason right now.
Regular physical activity can produce long-term health benefits (3)
Among other things, there is evidence that physical activity has many benefits on brain health including:
- improved cognitive function (goodbye “mom brain”!)
- reduced anxiety and depression risk
- improved sleep and quality of life
Regular exercise can also lower the risk of many chronic diseases such as:
- heart disease and stroke)
- type 2 diabetes
- certain cancers
Some benefits may even occur immediately like decreased anxiety levels, lower blood pressure and improved insulin sensitivity (lower blood sugar).
Furthermore, studies have found positive associations between moms’ activity levels and their children’s activity levels. (4) Since we know how important it is for kids to be physically active, this is another great reason why it’s important to make exercise a priority in our own lives.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines, adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity spread throughout the week (and more is better). This includes pregnant and postpartum women. At least two days of muscle-strengthening activities is recommended as well.
With that being said, even a small amount of physical activity has health benefits.
If 150 minutes – which breaks down nicely into 30 minutes five days a week, but can be spread out anyway you want – seems daunting (it does to me, for sure), have that be your ultimate goal and start small.
Make Exercise a Priority
First, think about fitting exercise into your life in the simplest way: In order to make a change, you have to do something you haven’t been doing.
This may seem obvious but sometimes you have to see it written down in an obvious way to make it sink in.
In order to exercise, you have to start exercising.
If you really want to be able to find time to exercise, you have to prioritize it. Think about the things you do every day – like brushing your teeth, feeding your kids dinner, getting dressed (okay, maybe this doesn’t always happen, at least in our house these days…).
You do them every day because they’re part of your routine – and because you’ve made them into priorities.
You have to treat exercise the same way – make it a priority and then make it part of your daily or weekly routine.
Finding Time To Exercise: When and Where?
Now we’ve established that in order to start exercising, you have to start exercising.
The next step is figuring out when.
For me, after I went back to work from maternity leave when my first baby was born, I felt as though scheduling a time for structured physical activity would take away from the already limited time I got to spend with my daughter each day.
I started thinking about our daily schedule and realized that in order to find the time to fit in exercise, I’d have to fit it into a time I was already allocating for something else.
An extra hour during the day isn’t going to magically appear.
If you want to figure out how to fit in exercise to your daily or weekly routine, you’re going to have to figure out what part or parts of that routine you can adjust a little.
For me, this was sleep.
Take a Look at Your Current Schedule
Our weekly schedule typically looked like this:
6:00 AM: My daughter woke up between 5:30-6:00am. We got up, ate breakfast, got ready for school/work.
7:00 AM: Out the door for work/daycare
5:30 PM I got home from work between 5:30-6:00pm (husband did daycare pick up most days and would be home a little before me). We made and ate dinner, cleaned up the kitchen and got ready for bed (bath, story, etc.).
7:00 PM: Put my daughter to bed. Then I would finish washing dishes, take a shower and relax.
I struggled with figuring out when in my hectic schedule I could fit in time to work out during the week. Basically, my two options were before my daughter woke up and after she went to bed.
I’ll be honest. At the end of the day, I don’t want to work out. I don’t want to change out of my work clothes, put on gym clothes and get sweaty and out of breath. I’d much rather shower, put on my pajamas and catch up on The Bachelor or Grey’s Anatomy…
This left me with one option that worked for my schedule and my priorities, which was waking up early to get in some exercise.
Unfortunately, for me, my daughter has always been an earlier riser. So that meant I would have to rise EVEN EARLIER if I want to have a kid-free workout.
Sometimes I managed to do this. Sometimes I ended up doing “loga” (aka yoga) while my daughter sat beside me watching CocoMelon videos on my Ipad.
Regardless, early morning workouts were what worked best for me.
Until… we had our second baby.
Keep in mind that what works for you in one season of life may not continue working for you as your family grows, your career advances, or life throws other changes your way.
You may have to make adjustments to your schedule or routine. Sometimes over and over. And that’s okay! That’s normal, that’s parenthood.
Now, for me, with a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night, it’s a lot more difficult to wake up early to workout. However, my work schedule has also changed. I now work longer hours four days a week in order to have Wednesdays (and weekends) off. So those are the days I try to fit in an exercise routine.
Think about your schedule — what can you afford to cut back on in order to add in some exercise? It might help to write out your day so you can see how moving things around would affect your normal schedule.
If you think mornings might be the best time for you to fit exercise into your day but you’re not sure how to make it work, I highly recommend Crystal Paine’s Make Over Your Mornings course. This is a self-paced course you can do over 14-days and it only takes about 10-15 minutes each day! Make Over Your Mornings is designed to help busy moms figure out how to get more done and how to find time to spend on things that matter – like finding the time to exercise.
Have a Plan… Then, Have a Backup Plan
As part of my job as a nurse, I try to help patients create self-management goals to improve their health. We work on SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound).
For example, a SMART goal would be: I will walk for 30 minutes three times a week at 7am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
I’ve realized this doesn’t exactly work when you have young children. Why? While children thrive on routines, they really don’t care about YOUR schedules. Things happen. Maybe you plan to get in 30 minutes of exercise on Tuesday after work but your baby is sent home from daycare with a fever and there goes that plan. So — you have to be flexible!
I started by making a goal to get in a workout three days a week. I would plan to work out on Monday and if that didn’t work out, I’d try again on Tuesday.
Maybe this works for you or maybe you’d rather be more specific and set up certain days of the week to get in your activity. Whatever makes you feel like you can reach your goal!
What would your SMART goal be?
Keep Track of Your Progress
I like to see things written out. I found it helpful to use a monthly calendar and write down the days I exercised, what I did and for how long.
This helped give me a sense of accomplishment by seeing it all written out.
It helped motivate me to find time to exercise so I could get in my goal of three days of exercise by the end of the week. I love checking off boxes!
Phone apps are also a great way to keep track of your activity. I personally like MyFitness Pal and there are a lot of other great options. You can find some more here.
Start Slow, Start Small
If you are new to working out or have taken a bit of a hiatus in between birthing a child and trying to get your life together (like myself), remember it’s important to take it slow.
You don’t want to overwork yourself or jump into a workout routine that’s too crazy to keep up with. Start with a small chunk of time or a low key exercise routine and build your way up.
Remember that physical activity doesn’t just have to be spending time at the gym or doing a 30-minute workout video.
Finding time to exercise can mean playing with your kids: swimming, hiking, sledding, running around in the backyard or having a dance party in the kitchen. It can be taking a 10-minute walk on your lunch break. It can be climbing up and down the stairs five times before going into the office in the morning.
Physical activity is anything that gets your body moving and burns calories!
We talked before about the recommendation to get 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week. With a moderate intensity activity, you will be breathing hard but still be able to carry on a conversation. Or, you can think of it as being able to talk but not able to sing.
Some examples of moderate intensity activity are:
- Walking briskly (2.5 miles per hour or faster)
- Vinyasa or power yoga
- Yard work
Try An Exercise Video at Home
Some moms might love getting out and hitting up the gym – time away from the kids where you can focus on YOU! Some gyms might even have daycare which can make it easier to find the time to go without having to worry about finding childcare.
Others might hate having to spend the extra time driving to the gym. Maybe a gym membership isn’t in your budget right now. Or, you just need and/or want to be able to get in a quick workout from home. For those moms (like me), we have the wonderful world of exercise videos.
Seriously, there are so many (FREE) videos available online that you can try out. Many of them are quick and made for beginners, many are even geared specifically toward moms.
Videos like these are also great if you want to get in a quick 10 or 15 minutes session WITH your kids. Turn on a video, invite your kids to join or set them up with some books on the couch while you work out in the living room.
These are some of my favorites:
Nourish Move Love – Lindsey has all different kinds of videos ranging from 10 minutes to longer sessions and targeting different parts of the body or full body workouts. Most involve little to no equipment!
Brett Larkin – Brett Larkin’s youtube channel has some fantastic beginner yoga videos – many that are 10-12 minutes long to easily fit into your busy day
Maggie Brinkley – Maggie Brinkley’s 15 minutes workout videos (available free through Amazon Prime or for a small price without Prime) are THE BEST. These are how I started getting back to exercising after giving birth to my first baby.
Find Your Will
There are so many reasons why physical fitness is important. But the most important reason is the one (or ones) that matter to YOU at this point in your life. You have to find the reason that motivates you and drives you to actually find the time to make exercising happen.
You have to figure out what’s important to you. How can exercise help you achieve your goal? What do you want that you don’t have? To fit into your favorite pair of jeans? To have pizza for dinner on Friday night without feeling guilty?
Find your will and you’ll find your way to fitting in fitness.
Give Yourself Grace
Once you make it a routine, it will get easier and easier to keep finding the time to exercise but if you’re finding it difficult at first, that’s okay too. Take it slow if you have to. If 10 minutes a day is all you’ve got to work with, make it matter.
Even if you just stand up, tell Alexa to play the Freeze Dance Song or the Hokey Pokey and dance around the living room for two minutes with your three year old – that’s two minutes of physical activity that you can feel good about.
Remember that ANY activity is better than NO activity.
You’ve got this, mama.