Creative Ways to Get Exercise Even When Life Gets Complicated

Creative Ways to Get Exercise Even When Life Gets Complicated

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Keep on moving to be a healthier mom and role model

A typical day in the life of a Solo Mom can be overwhelming, with more to-dos than you can get your arms around. There is always work, grocery shopping, and chauffeuring the kids. Someone might need help with math homework. A toilet may require plunging. There will inevitably be bills to pay, and part of the day might be spent figuring out why the TV suddenly isn’t working.

What a typical day may not include is exercise. But Solo Moms need exercise to be better moms. As Aimee Danielson, director of the Women’s Mental Health Program at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, says in a 2017 Washington Post article about the importance of self-care, “[Moms are] the linchpin to the whole family working. . . . If you can’t [practice self-care] for yourself, do it for your kids.”

Sage advice, certainly. But how does a Solo Mom find the time to exercise? Take a deep breath and let’s discuss.

Exercising with your family

One way to stay active is to make exercise a family affair. Pursuing a healthy lifestyle with our kids sets a great precedent, and it’s quality time spent together when quality time can be at a premium.

Take a walk after dinner. One way to keep active together? After-dinner walks. Walking after eating is a way to bond and keep those dinner conversations flowing; it’s also a way to stay healthy. According to a 2013 New York Times piece, “a post-meal walk, as short as 15 minutes, can in fact help with digestion and improve blood sugar levels.” Depending on your kids’ ages, you might be pushing a stroller or organizing footraces down the sidewalk. But the magic words here are “active together.”

If you’ve got a dog, so much the better. Fran Dvorak, a Lombard, Illinois, resident and grandma to one-year-old Ryden, takes Ryden and her dog, Blaze, out together. Blaze, as it turns out, helps keep things interesting—and moving along. “[Ryden is] such a fun companion,” Dvorak says. “If we walk, he stops every five feet to point something out and watch it. I’ve learned a little trick, which is to give him Blaze’s leash to hold. It’s a flexi-leash, so it’s a bit mechanical, which he loves, and Blaze keeps him moving better!”

Have a family dance party. For music lovers, family dance parties may become something of a tradition. That’s been the case for Betsy Murphy, who on shares how she holds regular disco nights with her four children and neighbors. Furniture gets moved to the side, the CD player gets loaded up with dance tunes, and the kids take turns creating strobe-light effects with a flashlight. “They dance for three hours straight,” Murphy says.

Presumably Murphy dances, too, which is good news for her cardiovascular health. ESME’s Tanisha Christie suggests some perfect upbeat tunes for any living room dance party. Talk about fun fitness: according to a 2014 article in Cosmopolitan, dancing actually burns more calories than jogging!

Make chores more fun. For those adept at multitasking (and honestly, is there a Solo Mom out there who isn’t?), making a game out of household chores such as yard work can promote togetherness, keep everyone active, and get shit done! Gardening, it seems, is actually good for us. According to, “[D]igging, planting, weeding, and other repetitive tasks that require strength or stretching are excellent forms of low-impact exercise.” Certainly, planting vegetables or flowers with our children connects us in a meditative way, and kids enjoy a sense of pride when the carrots grown from seed end up in a family dinner. And if you live in a place where snow flies in winter, even shoveling (which burns almost 200 calories per half-hour for a 125-pound woman) can be a fun shared activity if snow angels, snowmen, and a few snowballs are part of the experience.

Carry your child—literally. What if your child is too little to wield a shovel or a rake? You can always make the most of your child’s small size: as ESME’s Stephanie Land shares in “Exercising with a Kid Literally on Your Back,” carrying the added weight of your kiddo is a bonus challenge for your body, whether you’re walking around the block or doing squats in front of the mirror. As Land points out, “It really doesn’t take much to see results, and your baby will love the movement while being close to you.”

Finding time to exercise on your own

It’s not that Solo Moms are unable to exercise on their own. Part of the challenge, though, may lie in rethinking what exercise means to you.

Do shorter workouts more often. You may not be able to fit in a 60-minute block of time to go to the gym, but three or four short workouts during the day might be doable. Exercise DVDs can help keep you on track. And those programs that are broken down into segments give added flexibility: it’s less overwhelming to fit in a 10-minute DVD session here and there throughout the day when opportunities present themselves. (Hello, naptime!)

This approach definitely demands creativity, but as ESME’s Nicole C. Kear notes in her article, “Five-Minute Pregnancy Workouts for Exercise Haters,” any phone call can be a good time for leg lifts. (And though Kear is specifically talking about pregnancy fitness, her ideas also translate well into life on the go with kids.)

Schedule it in. Another challenge for Solo Moms? Remembering that fitness deserves to be on the calendar. Work out before the day gets away from you, and schedule it the same way you’d schedule a meeting or a playdate for your daughter. As ESME founder Marika Lindholm shares in her article “13 Wellness Hacks from a Busy Mom with Five Kids,” “If I don’t schedule fitness, it tends not to happen—it’s so easy to say I’ll start tomorrow.”

A trend toward 24-hour gyms can be part of the solution for Solo Moms with limited time to work out. Yep, there are actually places where you can go pump iron at 3:00 a.m., which is convenient, of course, but the caveat here is to make sure there’s time for adequate sleep, too. Take it from Lindholm, who says, “I’ve learned that lack of sleep, little exercise . . . and unhealthy habits sap my energy and make the juggling act impossible.” In short, exercise is good—but so is sleep.

Start a babysitting exchange with other moms. Finally, some moms find time to exercise by sharing babysitting duties with other mom friends. As Amy Suardi notes in her blog, Frugal Mama, a babysitting exchange can be casual (moms taking turns watching each other’s kids) or evolve into a more formal co-op system in which parents exchange child-care time using a point system. Either way, when your kid is happily engaged with other kids and under the eagle eye of another, trusted parent, you can work in those laps at the pool.

Of course, as moms everywhere know, the only constant in parenting is change: you’ll just about perfect how to get a little ab work in during naptime when all of a sudden your son is starting preschool, and it becomes all about maximizing those three-hour blocks of time!

That’s OK. Remember: Solo Moms are nothing if not flexible. You’ve got this.

For more inspiration, join our closed Facebook group ESME Wellness.

Janice Deal is a writer, an editor, and a lover of found objects. Her short-story collection, The Decline of Pigeons (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2013), was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Her first novel, The Sound of Rabbits, was recently named a finalist in the Many Voices Project Prose competition. Janice lives in Downers Grove, Illinois, with her husband, daughter, and three disreputable cats.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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