How exercise helps me be a better mum

Stop feeling selfish about wanting to work out – these mums say carving out time for their fitness is a good thing, for both themselves and their children

Finding five minutes to wash your hair when you’re a mum can feel like a luxury – but exercise? An indulgence like that gets shoved to bottom of your to-do list and pretty soon, it’s been weeks (or months…) since you’ve even side-glanced at your trainers. Not only are you probably way too exhausted, leaving your babies with a sitter – even if it is just dad or grandma – to spend uninterrupted time focusing on yourself can feel greedy, can’t it?

But what if we told you squeezing in just a little bit of exercise – 30 minutes, a few times a week – could actually help you feel like a calmer, happier, more patient mother? And according to the mums we spoke to, you don’t even have to leave the house – or your kids – to do it.

The science

Research shows regular exercise, whether you jog, lift or yoga your way through it, helps you deal with stress better, improves your memory, and boosts your thinking skills. According to a University of Vermont study, as little as 20 minutes’ exercise has the power to lift your mood for up to 12 hours. This positive impact on stress, memory and mood – three of the biggest hurdles in any mum’s life – is what makes working out a must-do when you’re a mother.

In the real world

We get it – while the science may be convincing, it doesn’t make finding the time, motivation or energy to actually exercise any easier. That’s why we spoke to a couple fit mums we know – to get their insights for how they make it work. Hopefully their stories will prove that while you don’t have to give up a lot to fit exercise into your life, you will gain loads if you do.

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How exercise helps me be a better mum

Kelsey, 28, has two sons – Silas, 2 and half, and Felix, 9 months

What type of exercise do you do?

I love yoga but recently I’ve been doing a lot of walking mixed with running. I’ve gone back to uni full-time, so it’s hard for me to get to the gym for classes.

How often do you get a chance to exercise?

It’s inconsistent, but I’m working on that! My husband and I made a pact that we’re going to focus more on ourselves this upcoming year. If I can get the babies in the jogging buggy and run to the park or walk the two miles to and from the grocery store a few times a week, then that to me is a success!

How do you find the time?

I think it’s best to incorporate it into your daily schedule. It’s really hard to exercise while they’re napping, because that’s when I do homework, drink my coffee (while it’s still hot!) and sit without someone clinging to me. I find that if we’re going to the park, running there and back is a better option for me than trying to squeeze it in elsewhere.

What do you love about exercise?

I love the way I feel after working out – you never regret it.

How does exercise affect you as a mother?

I think it makes you feel more like you. I stay home with my babies, which I am so grateful for, but I have to be in tune with their needs and wants all day. Some days I don’t even get to brush my teeth until they go down for an afternoon nap! It’s intense. So, when I get a chance to concentrate on myself, especially at a yoga class, I get to really focus on my needs and wants. Even if that means just sitting in child’s pose and stretching for an hour.

Did you workout when you were pregnant?

I did yoga up until around 30 weeks with Felix. It was great. After he was born I waited the 6 weeks until I got the OK from my midwives. But I had some serious discomfort with my hips and pelvis so it was really hard to get back into things. I would say until he was around 6 months old I didn’t even feel like I could go to a yoga class. It’s really important to let your body heal after, and then take it slow.

Do you ever try to involve your kids in your workouts or is it totally ‘you time’?

I think this is where you can be most successful! Running to the park and back is a great way to incorporate exercise into something you’re already doing. Last week, I ran to the park, let Silas out to play on the jungle gym and put Felix in the swing. While I was pushing him I did some lunges and squats. He thought I was being silly and it kept him occupied.

What advice do you have for other mums who struggle to find the motivation to work out?

I know how hard it is to put energy into your own wellbeing because you feel guilty. Been there, done that, and I can’t even lie…I’m still working on getting out of that mind set. But it’s necessary, and the bonus? You get alone time.

How exercise helps me be a better mum

Lucy, 34, has one son Tommy, who is nearly a year old

What type of exercise do you do?

Paddleboarding, jogging, sea swims, cycling to the beach (Lucy lives in Bournemouth). I've also started hula-hooping as it gives me a quick energy fix, and Tommy will happily chill in the garden while I'm doing it.

How often do you get a chance to do it?

I run once or twice a week now, and I do yoga every fortnight. My husband and I used to go to class together, but now we have to take it in turns because of the little person that lives in our house.

How do you find the time?

People love saying, 'I just don't have time.' I guess the truth is we make time for the things that are important to us. If I'm having a particularly busy week, or my husband is away and I'm parenting solo, then I'll sack off the yoga class and do a few stretches at home. I pop the baby on the play mat next to me with a few toys – and hope for the best! Or, I'll hula-hoop in the garden, or just go for a lovely long stroll with the buggy. As long as I'm getting a bit of fresh air and not sat down all day, that's good enough for me.

What do you love about exercise?

I love the burst of energy exercise gives me, and that feeling of freedom when I'm running on the beach, or paddleboarding on a glassy morning. It's a reminder that you're not 'only a mum', but your own person, too.

How does exercise make you feel as a mother?

I feel energised, positive, capable and stronger. Being a mother is physically as well as emotionally demanding (lifting car seats, buggies, and babies, all day), so it's important to keep healthy and fit.

Did you work out when you were pregnant?

My approach to exercise has always been quite straightforward. I don't have a fixed schedule or routine, but I like to get outside every day (even if it's for a quick yomp in the rain), and my only rule is that I'll only do exercise that I enjoy. So a typical week for me might include one yoga class and a couple of beach runs. In the summer, I paddleboard whenever the weather is calm, or go for a sea swim if it's sunny. When I fell pregnant, I wanted to stay fit and healthy. I wasn't too worried about putting on pregnancy weight, but I wanted to be as strong as I could throughout pregnancy because of the stress it can put on your body – your back, in particular. I also wanted to be as fit as possible for the birth. I planned to keep going for beach runs throughout the first few months of pregnancy but I suffered with really bad stitches from about 4 weeks (when the baby was about as big as a pea!), so I had to give up jogging pretty swiftly. I kept up with my standard yoga classes until I was about 6 months pregnant, and then switched to pregnancy yoga, which focuses more on breathing and birthing techniques. I cycled and paddleboarded throughout my pregnancy too – right up until 9 months. My favourite workouts were sea-swims, though. Ah, the bliss of those brief moments of weightlessness!

Do you ever try to involve your kids in your workout or is it totally ‘you time’?

Tommy is too young to get involved really, although he laughs at my hula-hooping attempts, and likes to crawl around my legs when I'm doing downward dog!

What advice do you have for other mums who struggle to find the motivation to work out?

Do what feels good for you. Pick a type of exercise you enjoy so that it's a pleasure rather than a chore.

TRY OUR WORKOUTS FOR MUMS

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Body.Network by Matt Roberts