Health

How do you actually make time to exercise as a parent of young kids?

As research shows that mums of under 4s are getting less than 20 minutes a day, Katie Wright asks how do you actually make time to exercise as a parent of young kids?

Playing together can be good exercise for mothers as well as their children - and can be fun too.

A new study has revealed the true extent to which having children impacts mums' ability to make time for exercise.

Mothers with kids aged four and under managed 18 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a day, while those with school-aged children got around 26 minutes, according to the paper published in the journal Plos One.

Researchers at the universities of Cambridge and Southampton found that less than half of mothers meet the recommended levels of exercise, regardless of the age of their children, which may not come as a huge surprise to anyone who's experienced the round-the-clock nature of looking after little ones.

"It can be so difficult to find the time and energy to do exercise when you have a baby," says Georgina Durrant, parenting expert and author of 100 Ways Your Child Can Learn Through Play.

"And the last thing parents need is an additional guilt that they aren't exercising on top of all the other pressures of parenting – especially when they have more than one child."

As researcher Rachel Simpson, a PhD student at the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit (mrc-epid.cam.ac.uk) at the University of Cambridge, points out: "There are clear benefits, both short term and long term, from doing more physical activity, particularly if it increases your heart rate.

"We need to consider ways not only to encourage mums, but to make it as easy as possible for busy mums, especially those with younger children, to increase the amount of higher intensity physical activity they do," she says.

Here, parenting experts offer their advice on how parents can incorporate more movement into their schedule...

ACTIVITY NOT EXERCISE

"Whilst it's great if you can share the parenting and take turns to fit in some exercise, this isn't always easy with work commitments and family life," says Durrant, something that may be even more apparent for single parents.

To take the pressure off, she suggests: "Focus less on 'exercises' and more on being active with your baby or child. This might be going for slightly longer walks with the baby in the pram or following a toddler round a soft play centre – I can guarantee this is a workout in itself."

PLAY TIME FOR PARENTS

Instead of thinking of exercise as something that needs to be done when the kids are in bed or otherwise occupied, try using active play as a way to get your heart rate up.

"Playing together outside or even in the house with a toddler is also great exercise for both child and parent," says Durant.

Kathryn Lord, childcare expert from More To Organising (moretoorganising.com), suggests having a dance party at home: "We turn the lights down, put on a disco ball and dance to our favourite Disney music. If you are adding lifts and twirls in, you'll get your strength."

Or getting active at the playground: "Being at the park is a workout – pushing on the swing, playing chase and lifting them on and off apparatus. I actively play with the children, so I am the troll or the wolf when retelling well-known stories."

FAMILY FITNESS

For parents of older children, workouts that the whole family can take part in – whether at home or outdoors – are a great option, and there are lots of videos to choose from on YouTube.

"They can be a great way to get the children involved in getting active too so you can all enjoy it together," says Born Barikor, founder of Our Parks (ourparks.org.uk) outdoor fitness classes.

"These workouts should always be tailored around movement and enjoying each other's company, whilst being active, rather than being tied into any fitness goals."

ACTIVE EVENTS

Another idea for familiies with older kids, make a day of it by signing up for an active event such as Lidl Mudder (toughmudder.co.uk) obstacle course or a fun run in your local area.

"Having experts guide you through at your own pace, in your own time, can be all the reassurance that you need to make it a healthy habit and get active," says Barikor.

Health