Do you think you should exercise more?
After all, you’re a parent now. Taking care of yourself is so much more important…
You want to be able to toss your toddler over your head without worrying about injuring your back.
You want to live a long, active life so you can play pickup games when your kids are in high school and go on long walks someday with your grandkids.
You want to model healthy living for your kids.
And — let’s be honest — you could probably stand to lose a few pounds too, right?
Feeling motivated to hop on a treadmill yet? I didn’t think so.
Here’s the thing– when we talk about living healthy, we usually focus on the “big-picture” benefits. And sure, eventually regular exercise might mean a better overall quality of life or a more sculpted body.
But the choice to exercise isn’t made in the long term. It’s made now, in the short term. And usually, making time for exercise means skimping on something else — like sleep or work or cooking dinner. Which means if you want to make exercise a priority, you need a short-term benefit.
You don’t need a reason to do it someday — you need a reason to do it now.
For most of my life, I’ve avoided exercising.
I enjoy walking to the park with my kids or hiking up a mountain with friends, but running for its own sake (not because I’m in a hurry to get somewhere)? Biking just for the fun of it? Forget about it.
I simply never had time for that kind of thing — and that was before I had kids.
After I had kids, of course, exercising was pretty much the last item on my to-do list, somewhere below playing trains with my toddler, eating and sleeping.
But recently, all that changed — and I’ve discovered a value in exercise that I never expected.
The Invitation That Sparked a Change
Over the past few months, my family has been going through a lot of challenging transitions. I’ve had to end relationships, get a new job, and change where my kids go for childcare.
Our family is in a stage of reinvention — what I’ve done in the past doesn’t work anymore, so I’m willing to change almost everything. In that state of mind, I saw a post from a friend on Facebook inviting anyone who wanted to join her in training for an upcoming half marathon.
When I saw the invitation, my first thought was, I don’t run. But my second thought was, Why not try something new? The next day, for the first time in years, I went for a run.
At first, I hated it as much as I thought I would. My feet hurt. My lungs hurt. It was hot. I was slow.
But I kept going. Not because I really wanted to run a race, or even because I wanted to get in better shape, but just because I wanted to try something different.
And at some point, everything changed.
What Running Did for Me
After only a couple of runs, I had serious doubts about whether I’d ever be able to run 13 miles. I was a little unsure about my ability to run 3!
So I stopped thinking about distances and times, and instead, I started thinking about my body.
At first, it was just common sense — I’d heard that beginning runners often push themselves to injury, and I didn’t want that to happen to me. So I decided I wasn’t going to push myself.
I signed up for an app that generated a training program, and I made a commitment to try to follow it, but I promised myself I wouldn’t run through pain. Instead of trying to make good time, I ran at a comfortable pace. Instead of trying to run without stopping, I ran until I felt like walking, and then when I felt like it, I ran again.
Slowly, I started to enjoy running. But that wasn’t all. I started to tune into my body in ways I hadn’t in a long time.
I became more aware of when I was tired or hungry. I noticed when my feet hurt. I paid attention when my shoulders ached.
For the first time in years, I started to feel connected with my body.
The Importance of Tuning In to Yourself
As parents, it’s incredibly easy for us to tune out of our bodies. For me, it started in pregnancy, when side effects like heartburn, aching feet and sore hips made me tune out of physical feeling out of sheer self-preservation.
After baby arrives, months or even years of sleep deprivation, combined with the painful soreness that comes from pacing for hours while rocking and bouncing a baby in your arms, make it even more likely that you’ll ignore what your body is feeling.
But what starts as desperation can quickly become a habit. And when you make a habit of tuning out of your body, the side effects can include a lot more than just sore feet.
There’s a wide body of research supporting the connection between your mind and your body, but a lot of it boils down to the fact that what you do physically and how you feel emotionally affect each other in complex ways.
When you ignore your body, it becomes a lot easier to ignore your emotions, too. And when you ignore emotions, they express themselves in unhealthy ways — sometimes through your body, and sometimes through your actions. Maybe you’ll just get a headache; maybe you’ll lose your temper with your kids, but emotions won’t stay suppressed forever.
I wasn’t aware that I’d been pushing emotions down. I thought I was relatively healthy and self-aware. But when I started running, I was forced to tune into my body in new ways, and to my surprise, I found myself tuning more into my emotions, too.
Instead of feeling constantly worn down by the daily pressure of cooking dinner and rushing through bedtime, I started to notice the little moments of joy — the picture-perfect moment when my kids cuddled together in bed, or the sweet story my daughter wanted to share with me as she was falling asleep.
Instead of pushing through my exhaustion to get things done after my kids were finally asleep, I started going to bed earlier — and even waking up before my kids sometimes so I could get dressed and drink coffee and still wake them in time for school.
Instead of trying to keep cleaning all afternoon when my feet were aching, I started sitting down on the floor with my kids and playing a game with them.
I started to feel more connected — both with my family and with myself.
I’ve been running for several months now, and to be honest, I don’t feel any different physically. I haven’t lost any weight. I don’t run much faster now than I did when I started (although I can run farther).
But I’m no longer running to improve my physical health.
And while I’m sure it’s great that I’m modeling healthy exercise for my kids just by the fact of running, I think the emotional connection I’ve found through running is a lot more valuable.
Sure, I hope that running will make me healthier. I hope my kids see me and decide that exercise is valuable and fun. I hope it keeps me strong for long walks in the park and carrying a growing toddler.
But when I pull on my running shoes and head out the door tomorrow evening, none of those things will be the reason why. No, the thing that will pull me out the door will be a longing — almost a craving — for the feeling of connection I get when I run. Connection with my breathing. Connection with the muscles in my legs. Connection with my feet hitting the pavement.
So today, I registered for the half marathon. I’m still not sure whether I’ll be able to finish the whole thing. But whether I finish in impressive time or come walking in last just barely under the limit, I’m certain of one thing: I’ll be listening to my body every step of the way.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Do you think you could use the emotional benefits of exercise by getting more connected with your body? Try this:
- Do a 20-second workout. Run as hard as you can for 20 seconds. Then rest and pay attention to your body. Notice how it feels to push yourself physically for a short period of time. If you feel like it, do it again.
- Throughout the day, pay attention to how you feel. When you’re tired, sit down for a break. When you’re hungry, eat. You might find this helps you tune in to how your kids are feeling, too!
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Want to go a step further? Over the next two weeks, start exercising:
- Choose a physical activity that feels good to you when you do it. Whether it’s walking, biking, running, tennis, dancing or kick boxing — pick something that feels good when you’re in the middle of it.
- Schedule time to exercise at least four times over the next two weeks. (That’s only about 2 hours total!) As you’re exercising, pay attention to your body. Slow down when you need to, and rest when you need to. Notice how you feel throughout the activity.
- After exercising, take a few minutes to breathe deeply and relax your whole body.