If you had an extra hour in your day, what would you do with it? Despite great intentions of taking more time for ourselves, would you really roll out that yoga mat or hit the road for a 5km run?
Exercise makes us feel amazing, but getting out the door takes willpower and motivation. Most parents have used up most of their resources just getting through the last few months.
But it is important to finish this summer feeling somewhat refreshed so as we can have the energy and enthusiasm for whatever the new school year brings.
Lose the guilt
If you are heading into an August where time won’t be your own and family commitments will take priority, one option for feeling better is to build more movement rather than formal exercise into your everyday. While it would be lovely to escape and exercise alone, lift that expectation from yourself, embrace your current schedule and just build in little minutes of movement where you can. You don’t need to look far for inspiration. Simply join in with your kids in whatever they are doing.
Follow their lead
Start at home. Notice that younger children choose to sit on the ground. Join them there. Move around on the floor and change positions as you play. Steer clear of the couch. Getting up and down off the floor is movement practice in itself. Remember that you don’t have to “exercise” and track steps for movement to count. If your kids love dancing, dance with them; if they love making obstacle courses in the living room, join in and add in a few new obstacles of your own.
Keeping the pace
Rather than focus on your running pace this month, try keeping pace with your children. Mirror the movements a young child performs. I’m assuming I’m not alone when I say I would be sweating if I tried to keep pace for much longer than a few minutes. Have you ever tried a crawling race? Our kids outperform us from an early age but if we even attempt to follow their lead we can pull ourselves out of an energy slump. We might not be able to do all the movements they can after our years of sitting, but we can certainly get the blood flowing and move in ways that we may have forgotten.
Parks and playgrounds
Look out for ways you can move when you are outdoors with your family. It’s not just about family cycles and dragging everyone out for a walk. When did you last roll down a hill, hang from a tree branch or scramble through a ditch? Let’s call it cross training this month. When in a playground look for ways to move more. You don’t have to be swinging across monkey bars or running laps of the perimeter, but you can do little things to get the blood flowing and loosen up. Balance on one leg, use the equipment to stretch or simply keep walking while watching.
The best movement coach
I am no parenting expert. I have an enthusiastic young boy soon to turn 4. It’s an age to be jealous of. They still have that perfect squat, endless energy and the effortless ability to race across stony beaches without grimacing or slowing pace. Add into the mix an invincible attitude and you actually have a great training partner. You can do it Mom, just jump. That’s what I was told from the 7th step of the stairs yesterday. We compromised on the 4th step. I can’t claim to know what happens beyond these preschool years yet, but one thing is for certain, if I don’t stay moving myself these days, I will have no chance of keeping up with him next summer.
Dress the part
The simplest way to encourage yourself to move more is to wear clothing you can actually move in. You will not chase a ball if you are wearing uncomfortable shoes, or climb a tree in those nice white jeans you don’t want to get dirty. You won’t be inclined to chase and run if you are not wearing your sports bra (or maybe that’s just me). Even carrying an awkward handbag will stop you from having the free arms to reach and climb. As boring as it might sound, wearing the right shoes and clothing make it so much more tempting to walk, run or indeed just play.
Time to multitask
We spend so much time and energy ensuring our children get outside and move but we are the ones who need to be moving just as much. We tell them they need the fresh air and activity to sleep better, learn better and feel better. But we are often too busy to take our own advice. Regardless of your age, your fitness level or your busy schedule, you can still benefit greatly from being more active. Moving more, even in small doses, will help your health, your mood, your energy and your aches and pains.
We all have different bodies, families and responsibilities. But if we try to move more, in whatever way that might be, we will feel better in ourselves. The better we are feeling, the nicer we are as a parent and as a partner. Let’s commit to finding more ways to add movement to our days this month and feel energised and strong enough to take on all that’s coming down the road. The schools will eventually open, the routine will return, the structure and schedules will all come back, but until they do, let’s play.
– Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Mary’s book Get Running published by Gill Books is out now.
Sign up for one of The Irish Times’ Get Running programmes (it is free!).
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
– Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
– Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
– 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!