I get it. You feel you have no time, limited money, and you can't even remember what energy is. Actually, you can remember what energy is: your offspring seem to have plenty. You just can't remember what it feels like to have any yourself. Working out is the last thing you want to do, and your idea of staying healthy as a parent is getting your 5-a-day from fermented grapes.
Not to brag, but I'm here to save the day.
Ok, a little bit of a brag.
But seriously, I am going to share with you some pretty tasty snippets you can start using straight away to improve your health and fitness with the limited time, money and energy that you have. Staying healthy as a parent doesn't have to be daunting, scary, or seemingly insurmountable. You can do this, and although you'll need to make some changes it won't be as difficult as you might think.
First off, why is staying healthy as a parent so important?
Without going into too much depth, your health will have an impact on every aspect of your life. If you have better health, your mood will be better, your relationship will improve, your parenting will seem to flow better. You will have more energy to play with your kids, and that energy also means you'll have more patience. Exercising regularly and eating healthily will also reduce your risk of mental health challenges, including postnatal anxiety and depression. It's well worth making this a priority!
I am a parent to two girls, Evelyn and Pippa. As I am writing this they are 6 and almost-3 respectively. I regularly find myself asking what I did with all the free time I had as a parent of only one?! Even more often, I ask myself what I did before I had kids at all! Like seriously, I really didn't realise just how much time I had.
So with that in mind, let's take time as the first hurdle you are trying to leap. Most parents feel constantly rushed off their feet, and like there isn't enough time in the day to get everything else done, let alone adding new stuff on top! Does this seem familiar to you? You're not alone, trust me.
The argument for setting aside time to hit the gym for an hour each night is usually along the lines of 'with your increased energy and better health, you'll be able to get MORE done in the remaining time...so you'll actually end up with MORE time overall!'
I know this because I have said something along these lines on many occasions.
It's important for you to understand that this is true! However, it's not a particularly good motivation at the start. An hour in the gym is pretty daunting when you have no time already. In fact, even the recommended 30 minutes activity a day seems impossible, right?
How about 5 minutes?
The majority of people think you need to do 30-60 minutes in a workout to make it worthwhile. Well I can tell you that's bullshit. Is 5 minutes better than 0 minutes? Of course it is. Is 5 minutes better than an hour? Well yes, actually, if you are more able to sustain it! How many days will you be able to keep up 60 minutes a day before something scuppers it? If you are like most parents, you'll probably find that on day 1 your little darling will cause some kind of catastrophe which eats that hour like your kid eats play-doh. 5 minutes per day is much more do-able, no matter what evil plan your kid is working on.
Staying healthy as a parent doesn't have to take over your life!
But what can you do in 5 minutes? Granted, you will have to make an efficient use of this time. However, I think you might be surprised at what you can achieve. Here are my top 5 favourite uses of 5 minutes for working out:
- Full-body circuit. Pick at least one upper body, one lower body, and one core exercise. Perform a set number of reps or seconds on each, then move onto the next without resting. Rest for a short time, and then repeat the circuit as many times as you can in 5 minutes.
- Body-part circuit. As above, but all exercises target the same body part/muscle group, eg: legs.
- Intervals. Using either resistance exercises or cardio, do short bursts of high intensity followed by rest. For example 20 seconds exercise and 10 seconds rest. This particular balance is called Tabata, and you can do 8 sets in 4 minutes.
- Sprints. Similar to intervals, really a subset, sprints are just running intervals. Sprint as fast as you can over a given distance or time, then rest and repeat.
- Mobility/stretching. 5 minutes is plenty of time to stretch. Setting aside some days to focus on keeping your joints supple and healthy is key for recovery and injury prevention. Being mobile is an important part of staying healthy as a parent!
Money is another barrier to many parents. A pretty standard gym membership can range from £25 up to £50+ per month. Not bad if you go regularly, but a poor investment if your life as a parent gets in the way.
The good news is everything I listed above can be done at home or outdoors, with little to no equipment.
Staying healthy as a parent doesn't have to be expensive!
I often hear parents saying they can't afford to eat healthily, but this again isn't always true. If you make healthy food a priority then you can usually find other areas to cut back. This is especially true if you cancel your unused gym membership. However, if you can't cut back anywhere else I challenge you that you can actually eat healthier AND save money on shopping. It all depends how much of a priority staying healthy as a parent is to you.
I've done it, so don't even try arguing.
My target for the weekly food shop is £40-50 for my family of four. I buy some value options, such as oats and peanut butter. I don't buy organic at the moment although it's something I would like to do. Brand names are rarely in my basket, unless they are on offer and work out cheaper than the supermarket option. I buy less meat and more veg, more lentils, beans, etc to bulk out the meals. This makes the meals cheaper and also improves the fibre content. I rarely buy biscuits, crisps, chocolate, wine, beer. Not because they are unhealthy (you can have these things and still be healthy) but because they are often quite expensive. I don't eat out very often, or get takeaways, and I don't smoke.
I know families who spend £100+ each week in the supermarket, get takeaways, drink, smoke, etc. None of these things are bad, feel free to spend your money on whatever you want. However, don't do this and then complain that eating healthy is too expensive. I will be liable to slap you.
My top 5 tips to saving money and eating healthy:
- Plan your meals. Plan for the week, write a shopping list, and then stick to it. Don't impulse buy the Pringles, or the Magnums. Don't buy something for a meal because you think you might need it. Stick to the list and you will reduce food wastage, keep your costs down, and stay healthier.
- Reduce your meat intake. I'm not saying this because it's healthier, although some people will tell you it is. In all honesty you can be healthy eating meat or not. I'm saying this because meat is usually the most expensive ingredient you will buy. Bulk your pasta sauce out with veg instead of more mince. Use lentils to add protein and fibre to a curry, either alongside or instead of the chicken.
- Shop online. You are less likely to fall for the impulse buys if they aren't right in front of you. Danish pastries are less tempting if you can't see and smell them, and you know you won't be getting them for another 2 days!
- Set yourself a budget. This is easier to stick to if you shop online, as it gives you a running total. If you shop in a supermarket then you can either add it up on your phone as you go around, or just estimate.
- Buy value range on some items. You can buy value on all items if you need to, but consider at least doing it for some. I have picked certain items which are pretty similar quality to the non-value option, such as oats. I also buy the 'wonky' veg which is quite a bit cheaper. Other things like tinned tomatoes you can barely tell the difference either. Try a few things and see.
This brings us onto the final of the three main hurdles to staying healthy as a parent: energy.
You may agree that you can spare 5 minutes per day. You may see how some simple changes to your shopping can help you eat healthy without breaking the bank. But you might still feel paralysed because your children have drained you like some strange team of energy vampires.
Making lifestyle changes can seem pretty full on, and like it would take unlimited reserves of energy. If you try and change everything all at once then you would be right. However, my advice is to change things gradually. You don't need to overhaul everything overnight. Indeed, that would be foolish! Even if you did manage that near-impossible feat, you would overstretch and bungee back to square one within the first fortnight. I've seen it happen more times than I can count.
Referring back to my earlier point about improved health meaning more energy, you will feel these benefits. Once you make one or two small changes you will get a bit more energy. This will motivate you to make one or two more changes. Your energy will increase again. Then one or two more changes.
This is called the compound effect, and it's seriously powerful stuff!
Staying healthy as a parent doesn't have to drain your energy!
I even have another 5 top tips to help with this:
- Write down your goals. Seeing them on paper will help you stay motivated and focused when your energy is low.
- List all the habits which you could change. Relate these to your goals, and make sure you include the core principles of more activity and healthier food. Some habit ideas could be: 5 minute workout per day, plan meals and shopping, 2 meat free meals per week, set shopping budget, etc.
- Pick one habit to change each week. Don't overwhelm yourself with too many changes at once. Save your energy to focus on one habit at a time.
- Be consistent and persistent. You won't feel the benefits unless you stick with the changes, and stay with them long term. Rome wasn't built in a day.
- Ask for help. Speak to your partner, your kids, your family, your friends. Let them know what you are trying to do and why. Ask them to support you and help you stay accountable. Or take it up a notch and get a coach.
Hopefully these ideas will help you develop your own plan for staying healthy as a parent!
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