Fitspiration is the flavor of the month, with memes and quotes flying around the internet at light speed. Some motivate. Others inspire guilt. Nearly all show fit, toned women sweating it out while running, lifting weights or doing other things that ‘fit women’ do. For those who have a passion for the gym, it’s great. What about the rest of us, though? Those of us with kids, families, jobs, responsibilities that chew up our time and stop us looking after ourselves in the most basic of ways?
To say there is ‘no excuse’ is to advertise you’ve never walked a day in someone else’s shoes. Every woman has a different situation. Different obligations, different constraints, different abilities and passion. For a devoted bookworm who can’t even find the time to read, going to the gym is just one more thing to add to the list of things I’m not going to do. I don’t have time and, to be honest, I don’t care. Adding a thrice-weekly, hour-long workout is just going to compromise my ability to fit other important things in. Oh, there was a collective gasp at that- What, more important things than my ability to bench-press my body weight? Yeah. Like my mental health. My ability to cope. My sense of accomplishment of having a half decent dinner on the table at a half decent time. Without those, every else starts to slip- I’ve been there, and the results just aren’t worth a six-pack.
Having said that, being active is important, especially if you have kids. When they see you run and jump and when you play outside with them, it’s setting up an expectation that This Is How Things Are- that grown people move. You don’t need a gym or a personal trainer to accomplish it, and it’s better for your family if you don’t.
Why is it important? Moving builds muscle tone. It strengthens bones (especially important for women after menopause). It takes sugar out of your bloodstream (helps to ward off Type II Diabetes). It improves your balance and resistance to injury (it’s really hard to look after kids when you’re on crutches and they can run). It improves the mood (cheaper than wine, healthier than chocolate). It’s fun. It’s a chance to get out, run around, laugh, roll around and let loose with your kids. It’s invaluable.
There are so, so many ways to get out with the kids. You can toss a ball in the backyard or kick one at the park. Go to the beach and chase the waves. Push them on the swing at the park, fly a kite, play tag with them. Small children often love the pram- my one-year-old giggles when we go fast, so it’s an incentive for me to run. We do the gardening together.
If you only have a tiny yard, you can still use pogo sticks or the tennis ball on a string. No yard? Play twister in the living room and get outside for a walk or a bike ride. If you’re short on time, make weekends (or your day off) a day of outside fun. Have a dance off every morning, or park a few streets away from school and walk the rest of the way. Most activities don’t cost you any money, so it’s also a great way to spend the day if your finances are tight.
If you’re able to, try a family sport. When I was little, my mum played squash and I’d go with her. Rock climbing is a great kid-friendly sport, too. Martial arts classes may offer a beginners course for all ages, or you could hire a private dance tutor and learn with your child. Horse-riding is another great activity to do together to build balance and core strength.
You don’t have to immediately throw yourself into classes and schedules. Just start with weekend visits to the park. Bust a move while folding the washing. Lead by example and often the kids will join in without being asked- or, if you see them running and playing, ask if you can join them! My family is at the baby steps stage right now (mostly due to an actual baby) so we garden, play, dance and wrestle without a schedule or plan. We rarely make it to the park, but compensate with time in the back yard. We do our best, and though it’s not enough to shrink my mummy-tummy or give me first-lady-level biceps, it’s enough, for us, right now.
Kids can really benefit from playing a sport, but also having the chance to have one on one time with a parent is something that can really improve your relationship. It gives you something in common and takes you outside the traditional parent-child situations. You’re both learning, both failing and succeeding. Seeing that you aren’t immediately good at something can teach your child that everyone starts somewhere; and that it’s practice and persistence that leads to success. It can also be good for them to see how adults deal with failure in a mature way. It’s a great bonding exercise that not only strengthens your body but your relationship.