The downside to writing, as with many seated jobs, is the lack of movement. Having grown up a dancer, I was constantly moving. Getting into adult life wasn’t too bad – I walked a lot. But getting into family life, unless I was running after a toddler, I wasn’t doing much. Everything I read kept emphasizing the need to exercise to stay healthy, but exactly how was that going to be possible? Between a full-time job, cooking, and kids, exercise seemed elusive.
At first, the answer was easy: I had only one kid, and my work had conveniently relocated to near my home. There was a daycare on the same property. I don’t drive, and walking there was easier than taking the bus.
But by the time my youngest was a toddler and his brother had started school, I realized that, no matter what was going on in my life, I had to make room for exercise. My kids certainly weren’t going to offer me the time. My husband also worked opposing hours to mine, so I couldn’t ask him to mind the kids in the evening and on weekends while I worked out, either.
So my main piece of advice to you is just that: it’s up to you to push it into your schedule. But exactly how you do that is up to you. Below, I’ve collected some advice from other writer friends on how to exercise when kids are around.
Free and Easy
When all else fails, use your own house if you have to, but getting out to walk is the simplest, cheapest form of exercise. Montreal-based writer and translator Kathe Lieber used to get up at 6:00 AM to walk with two other women who had small kids. Rising that early meant her child hadn’t awoken yet, either.
Helen Lammers-Helps, an agriculture writer who lives in Waterloo Region in Ontario, loaded her kids into a stroller or wagon and walked all over the neighbourhood. “It’s a great way to get to know your neighbours and being outdoors is good for my mental health,” she says. And when her kids got older, they hiked on local trails or biked.
Shake It Up
Lammers-Helps also found joining the local YMCA helpful: she made use of their babysitting while she did Aquafit classes or used their track. If her kids had hockey or swimming at the local rec centre, she walked around the centre’s track.
Lieber says that, if getting to a gym isn’t feasible, try finding a second-hand stationary bike or cross-trainer and store it in your basement or bedroom.
“My kid has left home, but I still find this the best way to shoe-horn exercise into a busy schedule. My stationary bike is by the window, with an interesting view, and there’s a TV and a radio in the room – so I’ve called my own bluff, basically. And my Kobo balances nicely between the handlebars. No excuse for not exercising.”
Virginia Heffernan, former field geologist turned writer, suggests having exercise equipment near your desk so you can squeeze in some movement. That can include a mat, a Theraband, free weights, or even a stationary bike as Lieber suggested.
Exercise and Television
Lisa Bendall, a feature writer and book author who lives Toronto, says that Just Dance on the Nintendo Wii system is her ticket to exercise: “Fun for the whole family and a great workout!”
Alison Palkhivala, a medical journalist in Montreal, plays boxing on her Xbox with her son. “But my son accuses me of cheating whenever I win,” she says.
When the Kids Are a Bit Older
Palkhivala says that once the kids turn 12, there are many family activities you can do together. In her family’s case, they started taking family martial arts classes.
“We’ve made martial arts a family affair and I joke we’re training to become the Incredibles,” she says.
The Most Important Thing to Remember
I’ve been a mom for almost a decade now, and I’ve learned that you have to change as your kids change. We did evening walks in the summer when the kids were easy to fit into a stroller. Now, they’d rather play with their Lego instead of go for a walk.
Be flexible, and change with your kids. Once I went on mat leave with my second child and my work moved back to its original building, I had lost my two 30-minute walks a day and had to find something else.
However, I also went through periods of doing nothing – it happens!
Now, with my split work day (part-time employee, part-time freelancer), I walk home from my employed job four days a week, a total of 20 km. I recently added a one-hour workout four days a week, and I had to ram it into my afternoon schedule. For the sessions during the week, that meant getting creative with supper and finding recipes that needed a long time in the oven, for example. If you’re adept with a slow cooker, this would help, too. I tried morning routines, but as of late, they just don’t work for me.
When it comes to getting yourself to move, know what motivates you the most, and get creative. After all, if you’re already creative in one area of your life (otherwise, why would you be writing?) then you can certainly be creative in other areas.
So, get a move on!