If you’re like most moms, squeezing in a simple shower can feel like a luxury–which means less pressing to-dos like figuring out how to exercise are pretty far down on the list of priorities. But while motherhood makes it a little (okay, a lot) harder to fit in a workout, getting in even just a little activity each day has massive benefits for your body and your mind.
Studies suggest that moms who make exercise a regular part of their postpartum routine tend to lose “baby weight” faster, experience less depression and improved mood, and have better overall self-esteem.
Plus, research reveals that exercise can actually make you feel more energized, which is extremely appealing to moms who tend to be sleep deprived.
Okay, so you know you should exercise. But the question remains: With little ones constantly at your feet, how on earth can you possibly work in a workout?
Here’s how to exercise when you’re a busy mom:
1. Take the Stroller for a Stroll.
Take a daily walk around your neighborhood with your little one. Your baby will love taking in the fresh air, sights and sounds (or, in some cases, the nap!), and you’ll love getting out of the house.
Plus, you’ll burn extra calories while you’re at it. That’s right: Researchers at the Exercise and Health Program at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse compared how many calories participants burned walking solo versus walking with a stroller. They found that on average, participants’ calorie burn was 18 percent higher when they walked with a stroller at a pace of three miles per hour than when they walked without a stroller. By picking up the pace, participants burned even more: At 3.5 miles per hour, the stroller-pushing calorie burn was a whopping 20 percent higher.
Make a list of all the parks in the area and walk a new one each week. As you get more comfortable walking with a stroller, consider changing up your path so you encounter more hills, or pick up the pace to boost your burn.
Too cold, hot or rainy for an outdoor walk? Don’t sweat it–just head to your local mall for some indoor laps with your little one.
2. Join a Class.
In a study published in the Archives of Sports Medicine, moms who participated in “mommy and me” exercise classes reported having significantly less depressive symptoms in the postpartum period than those participating in other activities–or none at all. This makes sense–and not only because exercise releases endorphins, the “happiness hormones.” These types of classes also enable moms to socialize and share with others who understand the unique challenges of motherhood. It’s like a built-in support system.
Many gyms and community centers offer yoga or stroller workout classes for moms with babies and kids. Others offer swimming classes, which expose little ones to the water while providing moms with a low impact resistance workout.
3. Use Your Body–and Your Baby.
No one knows better than a mom that those tiny little bundles of joy can actually be quite heavy. But this works in your favor if you’re wondering how to exercise as a new mom and you’re willing to incorporate your little one into some resistance training.
Once your baby has sufficient head and neck control–usually around three or four months, you can consider (carefully!) doing squats, lunges, bridges, oblique twists and even overhead presses while holding him or her. You can even carefully hold your baby as you walk up and down your stairs for a great leg and glute workout.
If you’re nervous about including your baby in your workouts, consider squeezing in some planks or push-ups every time you put your baby down for tummy time. Experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend starting your baby with two to three tummy time sessions daily, and increasing that number as they get more comfortable with the position. If you do 15 push-ups each time you put your little one down, you’ll be feeling the burn in no time.
4. Form a Mom Squad.
If you’ve got other moms in your social circle who are also wondering how to exercise in between all the to-dos associated with motherhood, set up a weekly get-together during which you all hit the pavement together or rotate houses to do a workout DVD. It’s a great way to burn some calories while squeezing in some social time with other adults. Plus, you’ll hold each other accountable, which will make it difficult to skip a workout.
If the little ones make group activity difficult, consider taking shifts watching the little ones throughout the week so each of you gets a chance to squeeze in a sweat session sans kids.
5. Move While They Snooze.
Whether you’ve got a new baby or a toddler, chances are good there are some nap times happening in your house. Use half of those times to catch up on some much needed sleep, and the other half to pop in a workout DVD or pull up an exercise video on YouTube and get moving.
Figuring out how to exercise as a mom might be a tricky feat, but it’s not impossible. And, considering all the benefits associated with it, it should definitely be a priority on every mother’s list.
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Note: If you’re a new mom, be sure to clear all activity with your doctor–some women, especially those who’ve had a cesarean section, are advised to wait till their six week check-up to start exercising again.