Finding time to exercise: one of the most commonly-cited barriers to actually getting that first foot out the door. A common conundrum for many people. We’re all busy – work, school, family, friends…the list of other priorities can feel endless, overwhelming, and draining. Add in the very real, very aggravating parent guilt that so many of us experience, and carving out time for your fitness starts feeling not only difficult, but wrong. Selfish, even. There are always reasons NOT to exercise, and yet, exercise is so fundamentally important to our overall health and well-being that it feels like it should be a top priority.

And yet. Do we all really not have the time to exercise? Should we parents really feel guilty for taking an hour out of our day to go for a run? Spoiler alert: the answer is, categorically, unequivocally, no. We DO have the time. We should NOT feel guilty for carving out that time. In fact, it’s not only not wrong to carve out time for exercise, it’s the right, forward-thinking thing to do.

Bear with me. I have four kids at home – two are older stepdaughters, so I’ve only had to deal with the immediate new mom guilt twice, but that has been more than enough to bring about some serious changes in how I prioritize my time. Truth be told, I am in better shape now – a mom at the ripe age of 39 – than I ever was in my single, childless 20’s. I am far more diligent about making time to run, I miss next to no workouts, and I enjoy my running far more now. On average, I run about 70 miles/week. I also have one demanding full-time job, a part-time gig coordinating a 5-week kids’ running program twice/year, a running coach side business for which I currently have 10+ clients, a house full of kids and animals for which I do ALL of the cleaning and cooking…

Am I superwoman? Very far from it, I promise. I am simply doing what I both need to do and want to do, and I make it work for me. That has involved some pretty creative time management, some strange schedules, and some compromises, but it is doable. And some nights I even have time leftover to read 😊.
Am I just immune to the parent guilt that comes with pursuing any personal project or hobby that takes away from my time with my kids? Absolutely not. Crazy as my kids are, I seriously love spending time with them. My weekends are spent at parks, riding bikes, taking them hiking, jumping on our trampoline (as much as my creaky body will allow!), playing board games, and exploring local sites. And, with COVID-19 isolation and homeschooling, we get plenty of together time. Trust me!
But still, I always find the time to run, on average, 10 miles/day. That typically takes 80-90 minutes. Of my day, every day of the week, the month, the year. Do I feel guilty? No. Nor should you. And I’ll tell you why:

  1. By showing your kids that exercise is an important priority in your life, you are setting them up for healthy lifestyle choices both now and later in life. My kids are so used to physical activity being a part of the daily schedule that they don’t think twice about going for that bike ride, or that hike. I will feel like I’ve done something right for my kids if they grow up embracing fitness, rather than viewing it as a chore to be done.
  2. You NEED time to yourself. That’s right. From the moment your baby comes into the world, they need you. At first, for literally everything. And, a few years down the line…well, let’s be honest, pretty much still for everything! But a mom or dad who takes the time for self-care, for a bit of breathing space, for the time to remind themselves that they are a person, too, an entity separate from their children, is ultimately a happier and healthier parent.
  3. Because if you ignore your health now, you may be robbing your children of time with you later.

All of this is well and good, of course, but how do you actually find that time? The following tips have worked well for me over the last 7 years. Everyone is different, every situation is different. But with a little creative resourcefulness, you can make these tips work for you. And parent guilt can be reserved for when it is truly warranted. Like when you tell your child Santa lost their wish list when you realize you forgot to get them that scooter they’ve been drooling over for months.

  • Run early, or late, or any time you can get away for 10 minutes – flexibility is the key to successfully getting your miles in as parents, especially if your kids are young and not prone to sleep in until noon. If you’re a morning person, use those early hours to get your run in. A night owl? Head out once the kids are asleep (or at least not screaming from their cribs!). Neither early or late feasible for you? Spread your miles out over the course of the day – get a mile or two in a few times/day and the miles will start stacking up.
  • As Elsa sang from a mountain overlooking Arendelle (and truly, are you actually even a parent if you don’t recognize that reference??)…Let. It. Go. Your former training cycles of carefully planned out routes, heading out the door at the same time every day like clockwork, and hitting every planned workout every week of your training cycle are over. Gone. And that’s ok. I cannot stress this enough: be flexible. I know I’ve already said that, but it’s very very very important to keeping your sanity as a runner. Because kids have a way of coming up with emergencies right as you lace up (“mommy where is my Barbie’s blue shoe??”, “mom, I need to go to the bathroom!”, or simply “mom, sit with me, don’t go”). And even out on the road, you aren’t safe from their sticky grasp. Many a run has been cut short for me because my daughter woke up and wanted mom. ONLY mom, not dad. And that is what it is because you know what? Soon enough they’ll be teenagers and want nothing to do with you.
  • Invest in a good jogging stroller. I’ve owned two BOB’s and cannot recommend them highly enough. Seriously, BOB should be paying me for all the endorsements I’ve given these strollers over the years. Literally thousands of miles between my two youngest. Do jogging strollers slow you down? A little. Is it way harder to get up a hill pushing a stroller than solo? Darn straight. But if you – again – let it go and enjoy the moments you have with your kids in those strollers, you may find yourself discovering a new way to love running. Load ‘em up with snacks, toys, iPads, etc., and hit the road. My daughter still makes a game of it by looking for flowers, or cats, or sprinklers, and having her cheer me on when I’m really dragging makes a big difference.
  • Treadmills are your friend. I know they aren’t for everyone, and not everyone has the money or space for one, but IF you do, learn to love the mill. I prefer to run outside in pretty much any weather, but having a treadmill in our attic (along with a tv the kids can watch) has enabled me to get those extra miles in on many occasions.
  • Make it a family affair! Yes, your 6 year old is probably not ready for that 10-miler you have planned, but he/she can probably run 1 mile. You won’t be super fast, you may stop a few times and hear some complaining, but you’re teaching a valuable lesson and making fitness a part of your family’s life. In a few years, you may be cheering from the side lines at a track meet!
  • Embrace the playground possibilities. Playgrounds are full of great workout tools – paths, benches, bars. Next time you take your kids to a playground, get a workout in instead of sitting on that bench scrolling through social media. Run around, do some step ups, knock out some bench push ups. Yes, a few parents may give you the stink eye, but I have had other parents tell me they are impressed with the way I take advantage of the play time. I like to think I’ve inspired not a few local parents to embrace those playground workouts!
  • Find a local running program – many elementary schools have running programs that involve a few meetings/week at school and often culminate in a 5k or similar. In the US, Girls on the Run is a big draw. And more programs like this are popping up. Some local running clubs also offer youth track programs for kids as young as 4. Do some searching and you may be getting your kid(s) started on a lifelong love affair with running.

Ultimately, the inescapable truth is that it is harder to consistently get your miles in once you become a parent. But it’s certainly not impossible, and you should continue to make your health and fitness a priority even as the parenting responsibilities pile up. With a little flexibility and creativity, though, you can not only keep pounding the pavement, but also discover new ways to enjoy running!

Kate Marden is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with Coach Kate, check out her coaching page.

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