It’s easy to make a resolution to get healthy and get more exercise, but it’s often hard to get into a routine that fits into your busy day. Many women start out the new year with a schedule that looks good on paper, but after the third week of postponing exercise classes, doing last-minute projects instead of jogging, or just feeling too tired to get off the sofa and move, a lot of schedules and resolutions get abandoned.
You can fit exercise into your day more easily than you think, if you just think about exercise in a different way. For moms already working at a full-time job or two part-time jobs, it’s often hard to add another scheduled event into the week, even if that’s just a free community college swimming class. Adding your kids’ schedules into the mix makes it even more difficult. But instead of thinking about exercise as something you do only at specific times of the day or week, start looking at everything you do in terms of exercise. Five minutes, fifteen minutes, or the often-recommended thirty minutes a day will add up, and you’ll find that you have more energy to keep up with your schedule, and even get ahead – and that will leave you more time to exercise! You can find some good suggestions about ways to make room in your current schedule here.
Or you can use that free time to relax a little bit and take a break, which helps your mental and emotional health just as much as exercise helps your physical health.
#1: Exercise before eating.
Unless you’re planning on exercising for more than half an hour, or if you’re going to be doing intense training or weight-lifting, you don’t need to eat before you exercise. In fact, studies have shown that when you exercise on an empty stomach, you burn more fat and also stimulate your body to produce hormones that help prevent diabetes and other health problems. If you’re interested you can read more about one of those studies here. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20837645)
Of course, if your body doesn’t have a lot of energy, and you’re feeling very hungry, you should eat something before you exercise in order to avoid getting low blood sugar. You need something that is easy to digest and high in protein – not the sugary snacks or “carbo loading” that you’ll hear about when people are getting ready for a marathon. Plain yogurt is a great pre-workout snack, especially if you’re exercising first thing in the morning or after a long day at work. You’ll get both sugar (from the lactose in the milk) and protein from the whey. You can eat fruit yogurt, but avoid brands that use too much added sugar. If you need a little sweetener in your yogurt, stir in a spoonful of honey.
Obviously, “before eating” is easiest when you’ve gone for more than 5 or 6 hours without eating anything. In other words, right after you wake up. Try setting the alarm clock for 15 minutes earlier, and use that time to stretch, to take a short jog around the block a few times, or to walk the dog. You’ll develop an appetite for breakfast, and have more energy to face the day.
#2: Can’t get to class? Do it on line.
One of the reasons that exercise classes are so popular is that it’s helpful to have someone guiding you through a program, whether that’s aerobics or weight training. Another reason they’re popular is that it’s usually more fun to exercise or work out with other people. However, exercise classes can also be a huge problem, especially if you’ve paid for a class but then don’t go to it. You start feeling guilty, as well as out of shape. That makes you less likely to go the next week, which makes you feel more guilty, and so on. It’s also hard to fit regular classes into your schedule if you need a lot of flexibility in your day.
One answer is to do your class on line. Because these are almost always prerecorded videos, you can use them whenever you have time. Some public access channels provide daily morning workout videos, and these come in all sorts of formats. Pick the one that you like the most – or do different ones every day. It’s important that you don’t get bored with exercising, because you’ll only want to put it off.
You can find free videos on the internet as well, either on YouTube or through websites that focus on health in general, or on specific exercise routines. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Try a free yoga class at doyogawithme.com
- Find dozens of free workout and cardio videos at jessicasmithtv.com
- Fitness videos created especially for women are at grokker.com/fitness
#3: Don’t count calories – exercise them off!
A lot of diet plans make you keep “food journals” where you write down everything you eat, calculate the calories, and stay within a strict number of calories per day. Many people pay a lot of money just to get pre-packaged meals that have the calorie count already done, and some people decide to just avoid eating too much. But cutting down on food doesn’t always mean you’ll get the healthy, fit body that you want. In fact, cutting down too much is bad for your metabolism. Your body will start storing energy instead of burning it off, and the first place energy is stored in your body is in fat cells.
Rather than worrying about avoiding your favorite treats, think about how much exercise you’d need to do to burn them off, like this:
|If you eat …||Then you need to …|
|a bowl of ice cream||swim for 45 minutes|
|a brownie||ride a bike for 60 minutes|
|a large fast-food hamburger||climb up stairs for 45 minutes|
|a soft drink||walk for 60 minutes|
|a plate of cheese nachos||do aerobics for 30 minutes|
|a piece of pie||jog for 30 minutes|
#4: Walk as much as possible
Walking is good to do because it burns calories, like any other exercise. Even better, it’s a practical way to exercise; you can combine walking with other things you need to do during the day, and get more done. For example, if you have the time, you can walk to the grocery store and back. If you have a collapsible shopping cart (often called a “granny cart”) you can bring back several bags of groceries without putting stress on your arms or shoulders. If you work at an office, walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator. If you ride the train or subway, avoid the escalator and take a hike – up the staircase, that is.
Walking also improves your circulation, both of your blood and your lymphatic fluids. That’s particularly important if you have a job where you’re sitting down a lot. Get your system going again with a walk after work (can you walk an extra few blocks to the next bus stop? can you walk all the way home?) and you’ll have more energy for the evening.
#5: Jump! (for your body)
Do your kids have a mini trampoline? If it’s good quality, you can use it, too. Jumping on a trampoline doesn’t burn a lot of calories, but it does have other benefits. It’ll get your blood circulating, and increase your breathing rate. Taking deep breaths helps to stimulate your metabolism, and builds up the oxygen in your blood stream, which is good for your brain. Because the springy fabric cushions your feet, you’ll avoid putting stress on your knees and ankles. Try jogging on the trampoline instead of outdoors – a good option if rain or snow is tempting you to skip your daily run. If you can’t keep your balance while jogging on a trampoline, try moving the trampoline close to a wall, and brace your hands against the wall.
#6: Remember to stretch
Again, this isn’t something that burns a lot of calories, but stretching is important as part of a regular exercise routine. Stretching before you work out can help prepare your muscles for exercise, but stretching afterwards is even more important. Doing 15 minutes of stretching after you work out will help to calm your body and relax tight muscles. If you’re rushed one day and only have 15 minutes to work out, you can even substitute the stretching routine for the exercise. Check out a quick and effective stretching program here. (http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/how-to-stretch.aspx)
#7: Look at everything as exercise
Walking, doing housework, running after your toddler in the park, folding laundry – it’s all exercise. Actually, simply sitting on the sofa and watching television burns calories! Once you look at everything in your daily routine as a possible exercise, you’ll be surprised at how much you’re already moving your body. The trick is to keep your body in a position that maximizes the benefits to your muscles and posture as you move. You may also need to do things faster or with more energy in order to turn them into useful exercise.
For example, vacuuming or sweeping the floor (or raking leaves outside) exercises your arms and your legs. You can also work on your abdominal muscles by making sure that those muscles are pulled in and tight. You’ll strengthen your back by doing this, which will help you avoid leaning forward too much. To get more of a workout, try moving the vacuum (or broom or rake) forward by doing a leg lunge, instead of taking a step forward. Keep one foot in place, and step forward with your other foot until the knee on that leg forms a 90-degree angle. Push the vacuum forward at the same time. As you pull the vacuum back, bring the foot in back up to meet the one in front as you straighten your bent leg. You might feel a little funny doing aerobic moves while you’re doing housework, but in the end you’ll have a clean house and a fit and energized body. Get some more ideas for “housercising” here. (http://www.parenting.com/parenting-advice/mom/5-ways-to-turn-routine-chores-exercise)
Finally, remember that your body needs to recover and heal itself every day, something that happens when you’re asleep. What’s more, when you don’t get enough sleep you run the risk of developing health issues, like heart problems or diabetes. Getting plenty of sleep will give you more energy when you wake up in the morning, which will make it easier to exercise right away (see Tip #1 above). You’ll find it easier to stick to your diet, too. When you’re tired, the level of the hormone leptin in your body will drop, and that causes you to feel hungry. Instead of grabbing a candy bar to get your energy up after a long day at work, try going to bed a half an hour earlier instead.