How to Fit Exercise Into Your Day

As parents, our lives are crazy busy, so here are some easy ways to make sure you’re finding ways to exercise.

Despite all the advice we parents get about self-care these days, our busy schedules—kids, work, extracurricular activities, and for many of us, aging parents—ensure that our fitness goals consistently end up last on our priority lists. To help remedy that, I spoke with Rachel Lozoff, a Pilates teacher, dancer, and founder of Daily Body Pilates, to get some tips for seasoned parents and new moms alike on developing and, even trickier, maintaining productive fitness habits.

You May Already Be Doing It 

Make your daily routine work for you. It’s a fact that many of us are abysmally overscheduled, so finding an hour three times a week to hit the gym may not be practical for everyone. (Kudos to you if you are making that happen!) It turns out you can still work fitness into your life by simply noticing and taking advantage of what you may already be doing. “I always tell my clients that everything counts,” Lozoff says. “Walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, playing with and picking up your kids, stretching or moving your body while you watch TV, or even adding a little aerobic exercise to your daily life by walking everywhere you normally walk, just a little more quickly.”

Be aware. I remember being surprised at how physically strenuous taking care of my first child felt. Whether it’s wrangling a fractious toddler into a stroller or spinning kids around during a dance party, parenting can take a physical toll. Trying to tune into your movements is a great way to help strengthen your body and avoid any chronic pain from starting or worsening. Lozoff calls this type of awareness “Livelates”(pronounced live-a lot-ease, a term Lozoff has trademarked), and it is one of the main strategies she says she uses to help her “stay strong, functional, and able to have daily wrestling matches with two young boys.”

rachel lozoff

Rachel Lozoff, a Pilates teacher, dancer, and founder of Daily Body Pilates.

Even when you’re not around your kids, you should try to maintain that awareness. Sometimes it makes sense to sweat the small stuff. “Alignment and posture are also things you can be aware of as a way to prevent overuse or injury,” Lozoff says. “Are you twisting your body to look at your computer screen at work? Do you carry all of your bags on the same shoulder all the time? Details like this may seem minor or unimportant in the moment, but can contribute to general aches and pains, and even overuse injuries, over time.”  

Consider how you’re framing it. It may be helpful to think about working out in a way that speaks to you and your own personal needs and wishes. Maybe it’s a means to incorporate some time to yourself, a way to stay sane when everyone is wanting a piece of you, or simply something that is going to make you a calmer, better parent. “While the physicality of our lives in NYC can be taxing,” Lozoff says, “seeing your fourth-floor walkup as a daily opportunity to keep your legs and gluteals strong can help it feel less like torture and more like a few minutes of exercise that really will add up and make you stronger.”

Make a Habit of It

Take some time to plan before you start. Lozoff breaks down how to carve out time from our busy daily routines. The first step, she says, is to find 5-10 minutes of movement. “This can be from a class you take, a video you like, or one of many online fitness options,” she says. “If you can memorize the movement over time, this will make it easier to fit in to your daily life. 

Another thing Lozoff recommends is picking a time of day when you can squeeze in those few minutes. That could be first thing in the morning, after your child goes down for his nap, on your lunch hour, or after your kids go to sleep at night. “This five to ten minutes can be a manageable amount of time to start with and can still go a long way toward feeling good,” she says.

“Once you get into the habit of fitting regular movement into your day, you can slowly start making your routine longer,” she adds. When I first began exercising after childbirth, I started by simply lying down on my yoga mat and trying to tune into my abdominal core muscles. Once I felt ready to move on, I worked up from there to include more strenuous exercises. Lozoff also advises trying to make the first five minutes of your session consist of the same exercises, so that over time you know the movements so well that you can lie down anywhere, anytime, and devote a few minutes to work out.

Do it before you can talk yourself out of it. For many people this is in the morning. For me, it’s as soon as I put my youngest down for his afternoon nap. It helps if I’m already wearing workout clothes, thereby eliminating one more step that might get me off track. For Lozoff, “As soon as I put my son down to sleep, and before I do anything else like clean up toys or do the dishes, I get out my yoga mat and do my 25-minute routine. Though it has changed over the years, I still have that routine and at the end of each busy day, it still feels good to know I had that time for myself in my day. And there are still some days when I can only do five minutes! But it counts.”  

Have fun with it. I didn’t start being even remotely consistent about my fitness until I figured out that doing the loop in Prospect Park is where my bliss lies. I go even more frequently if I’m meeting a friend who is expecting me to be there at a certain time. We try to finish the full 5-kilometer loop; sometimes we run half of it and sometimes we walk the whole thing quickly—it just depends on how we’re feeling that day. Tracking the subtleties of the seasonal changes allows me to become much more in tune with nature and makes me feel like I’m getting a respite from urban living. Plus, being outside on a regular basis clears my head and makes me feel much more calm and centered.

Involving your family is also a great way to get motivated. Or if you’re exercising at home try Lozoff’s tip: “Save your favorite TV show to watch while you exercise, so the whole thing feels like a treat.”

Post-Partum Moms

Take it slow, but try to check in with your body as often as possible. After my daughter’s extremely difficult delivery, I was overwhelmed by how disconnected I felt from my body. There were days I wondered if I would ever have the energy and motivation to even start thinking about getting back into shape. But as I learned, feeling fit doesn’t have to involve making a huge commitment.  

“Finding time to do something every day, even for just a few minutes, is really essential, especially when you’re postpartum,” Lozoff says. “Not only is it physically beneficial to move, stretch, and strengthen your body, but knowing you have a small part of the day that’s just for you can be both energizing and calming.”

Lozoff’s first son was born via emergency cesarean section. “Suddenly my life and my body were completely new to me,” she says. With help from her own fitness instructor—who even held her new baby during the workout—she was able to develop a 25-minute routine. “Scheduling and finances were such that I could only see my teacher a couple times, but once I had that routine, I had the tools to come back to my body and feel strong again.” 

You Really Are What You Eat 

It’s fruitless to talk about fitness without considering what we’re feeding our bodies. Because some (okay, maybe a lot) of my sustenance comes from eating the remaining scraps from my kids’ meals, I asked anatomist, biochemist, and Ayurvedic practitioner Rebecca Dietzel, M.S., about ways to fuel your body to ensure you have the energy to meet fitness goals.

“Food provides not only fuel for the muscle work of exercising, but also the minerals, antioxidants, vitamins, and other factors required for the repair of tissues,” Dietzel says. “Physical exercise results in micro-damage to tissues. In the process of repairing that micro-damage, our bodies build stronger tissues. We need to provide both the fuel and the repair and maintenance materials to our bodies.”

So what should we be reaching for when we want to get the most bang for our buck nutritionally?

“Whole foods provide the best, most clean-burning fuel while also providing the resources to optimize the repair process. There is no protein shake nor energy bar that can replace the value inherent in real food,” Dietzel says.

And just like starting off with five minutes of exercise, don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t able to make major dietary changes overnight. “Over time, small changes become new habits,” Dietzel says. “Experiencing what those new habits bring to your health and well-being both inspires and motivates exploration of new food habits, creating a self-sustaining cycle of change.”

So just do what you can, have fun, and perhaps most importantly, go easy on yourself. In this (as in most respects), parenting really is more a marathon than a sprint.


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