Rick Hanson, PhD and Jan Hanson, MSParenting is a lot of work! But to be the best parents we can be, we have to take time to nurture ourselves as the people we are outside of being Mom or Dad. Psychologist Rick Hanson, PhD, and acupuncturist & nutritionist Jan Hanson, MS, authors of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, are here to help!
Who has time?
Everybody tells you to exercise these days, but who's got the time for it? There's a saying about exercise: Oh, I do get the urge sometimes. But I just lie down until it passes! Kidding aside, exercise certainly will improve your cardiovascular health, strengthen your immune system, and help prevent obesity and adult-onset diabetes. It brings vitality, energy, and relaxation, lifts depressive feelings, and keeps you trim. None of us really "finds" time for self-care and exercise. We have to MAKE time for them since they're essential to our well-being and health.
You probably already have an idea of what kind of exercise you'd do if you only had the time. And if not, you can get loads of information about exercise in the books or videos in the box, or from personal trainers in your gym or health club. If you've recently had a baby, your OB/GYN can make recommendations about safe and gentle exercises to strengthen stretched-out abdominal muscles or tighten up the pelvic floor. Of course, if you have any orthopedic or anatomic problems that interfere with exercise, please consult your doctor or physical therapist for specific suggestions.
Before you dive into a major program, we suggest you take a few days first to do 10 to 20 minutes a day of gentle yoga or stretching. And try to do some stretches at the start of any workout; stiff muscles are like sleeping children: they need encouragement and a little time to wake up!
But the real issue is usually how to shoehorn exercise into a day that's already crowded with work and family. Here are some ideas (with a focus on aerobics, not strength training):
Go for a walk or a run. You can walk by yourself, grab another mom, or -- courtesy of modern technology -- use a cell phone with a headset to catch up with a friend. Bringing your child in a stroller or in a baby backpack will make it even more aerobic and eliminate the child care problem. Many communities have a group of moms who go for walks together. Or if you're ready to pick up the pace, you can go for a run. You could even bring your child, if you like, by using a baby jogger, a mommy-powered tricycle.
Ride a bike. Riding is great fun with a child. She can sit behind you in a kid seat, or you can get a cruiser-trailer that hooks on to the end of your bike, and she'll look like a queen in a carriage. If she's old enough to ride on her own, she can come with you, though you'll probably need to drop her off back home midway through your workout.
Take an aerobics class or use the equipment in a gym. Many gyms now have on-site child care, even for infants. Try to work out a regular schedule with your partner that's truly feasible and not rushed.
Go for a swim. Swimming is especially good for mothers who have connective tissue problems (due to physical depletion) and need low-impact exercise. If you're not thrilled about showing up in a bathing suit, you can tell yourself you've earned your body the hard way, and that most people are so self-conscious about their own appearance that they're paying hardly any attention to you.
In the comfort of your home. Many women like to exercise at home while watching a workout video tape. Or get your own treadmill, rowing machine, etc.
Exercise your mind as well as your body. For a double workout, how about combining aerobics with stress-relief techniques? For instance, try to imagine that a dark cloud of tension leaves when you exhale, and a lovely light of peace and happiness enters when you inhale. You could repeat affirming statements to yourself or listen to an inspiring tape. Or focus on "being here now" and let your attention rest in the sensations of your body or in what you see.
Resources for exercise
Strollercize: The Workout for New Mothers, by Elizabeth Trindade and Victoria Shaw
Kinergetics: Dancing with Your Baby for Bonding and Better Health for Both of You, by Sue Doherty
Strong Women Stay Young, by Miriam Nelson
Real Fitness for Real Women: A Unique Work-Out Program for the Plus-Size Woman, by Rochelle Rice