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Exercise is one of the first things that gets sacrificed when I’m in the thick of parenting. I have two boys under 3, so finding time to exercise and leaving the house for my favorite spin class can not only be impractical, it can be impossible. I know I’m not alone: According to our 2023 State of Motherhood survey report, the majority of moms (62%) report getting less than 1 hour to themselves each day.

If I workout at home, I am climbed on like a piece of playground equipment or regularly tapped for snack requests. Maternal mental health advocate, Libby Ward (@diaryofanhonestmom), humorously captured these realities in a recent TikTok video, adding in the decision-fatigue of having to pick your workout and the likelihood of peeing yourself when you finally do get moving. 

Related: How to start a yoga practice

I anticipated getting creative when playing make believe games. I did not expect that some of the most creative work I would do as a mom is figuring out how to weave exercise into my busy day.

I teach yoga and write for wellness and fitness publications, but that doesn’t make things any easier in my household. If anything, it puts more pressure on me, as my workouts become another thing on my to-do list. But how am I supposed to do yoga when I can’t even go to the bathroom alone?

It’s not uncommon for us moms to put our needs on hold when we have children. We start to see exercise as superfluous and feel bad about the time it takes us away from our families. But physical activity is no luxury—it’s a health necessity

A 2018 article surmising the benefits of regular exercise stated that there are over 100,000 studies showing positive associations between health and exercise, which is pretty definitive evidence. Perhaps if we can start viewing exercise to be as critical as eating food or drinking water, we can feel a little less guilty about it.

Related: 3 ways to upgrade boring family activities to get kids moving

So where do we find this elusive “extra” time? Because it’s often not motivation or prioritization that is the challenge. It’s literally finding a moment in your day when your children don’t need you, which is pretty much never for busy moms

An essential piece of finding more time is to adjust our expectations. Just like our lives look totally different after having children, we need to expect our workout routines to look different as well, such as where you workout. Leaving the house to go to a yoga studio can be challenging, but so can finding a quiet space at home. I have learned to do my practice amidst a sea of legos with “Bluey” blaring in the background. 

It also helps to adjust our expectations around the amount of time we need to move our body. Thankfully, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ physical activity guidelines, which were released in 2021, American adults really only need 150 minutes a week of moderate-intense aerobic activities. This equates to 20 minutes a day of movements such as brisk walking, bicycling or swimming.

Related: Yoga can help reduce anxiety when trying to conceive 

For those of us who prefer more intensive aerobic workouts—like power yoga, running or circuit training—the weekly recommendation is just 75 minutes per week. That comes to around 11 minutes a day. I don’t know about you, but that feels a whole lot more manageable to attain than an hour.

And not to forget, parenting and running a household are also physical jobs. You may already be meeting those goals just by simply living your life! 

Of course, if you’re like me and enjoy intentionally feeling your heart rate increase and getting sweaty (and not just from chasing your toddler around the park when you’re trying to get them to leave), we can weave working out into our day. Here’s some tips for making time to exercise.

5 ways for finding time to exercise

1. Incorporate your kids

Do yoga stretches while playing on the floor with your baby. If you live in a walkable area, walk everywhere that you’re able to. Pro-tip: Toddlers and young children are slow and distractible, but if they are on a scooter or bicycle, you can sometimes get in a jog. 

I love doing what my son and I call “silly walks,” which is my own version of circuit training. Every block, we do a different movement like lunges or kicks. If weather and topography permits, consider bicycling or walking them to school instead of driving.

2. Have dance parties

Who doesn’t love a dance party?! This is also a fun way to involve the whole family. Dance whenever and wherever you can. You can bust moves while cooking, while getting everyone ready in the morning or during the bedtime routine. You can do seated dances in the car or on your couch. You can also choreograph special dances with your kids, which works their brains alongside their bodies.

3. Use everyday moments as a workout opportunity

Carrying groceries, heavy-load gardening and some forms of cleaning can be considered strength-building activities, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The official recommendation for strength building for healthy adults is about two days a week. 

Try doing a few biceps curls before placing your groceries in your car. Move slowly when cleaning to feel your muscles engage. A common physical activity exercise for shoulders is swiping a rag up and down the mirror. This strengthens our rotator cuffs, the key muscles holding the shoulder in its socket, and also makes for a very clean mirror. 

4. Wake up before everyone

I apologize in advance if you’re not a morning person, but that hour or so before everyone else gets going can be the best time of day to focus entirely on you. This also assumes your kids aren’t super early risers. My 8-month-old woke up at 5 a.m. as I was writing this, so I understand that this is not always a possible solution. Refer back to number one if that is the case.

5. Workout before bed

While a 2019 review found that vigorous workouts before bedtime may disrupt your sleep, this can be a great time to do strength building and light stretching. Keep a pair of weights on your bedside table and do a few reps of arm and shoulder strengtheners. Or hold a ten-breath plank. Then you can stretch things out just before hopping into bed. I’m also a big fan of stretching in bed, like doing a simple twist.

Exercise for busy moms can seem unattainable, but with a little bit of expectation-adjusting and a whole lot of creativity, you can carve time for yourself and your health into your daily routine. Thankfully, parenthood is a very physical job, so even if you are unable to sneak out to your favorite class or wake up well before dawn, you are probably already working out more than you think.

A version of this story was originally published on Jan. 12, 2023. It has been updated.

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