A question that often comes up when I do campus workshops on work/life balance is how and when busy academic parents can find time to exercise. As we get older, it becomes increasingly important for us to exercise in order to stay healthy and keep our stress levels in check. I find time to exercise because I know how important exercising is for my mind and body.
Like many aspects of work/life balance, how and when I exercise is something that has shifted over the course of my career.
Here are a few tips on ways to make time to exercise as an academic parent.
Find a gym that has daycare
When my children were of pre-school age, I took advantage of the childcare offered at the YMCA in order to be able to work out. One strategy that worked for our family is my husband and I would alternate between going to the gym and cooking dinner. For example, on Mondays and Wednesdays, I would pick the kids up from daycare and drive them to the gym. My husband would stay home and cook. We’d get home around 7pm and eat dinner together. He would go to the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays with the kids and I would cook.
Some parents may not like the idea of having the kids in daycare all day and then taking them to the daycare at the gym. However, we found this system allowed us to spend quality time with the children during and after dinner. And, that was much preferable to us being stressed out and trying to prepare dinner with the kids running all over the house.
Exercise with your kids
Another way to get exercise in is to exercise with your kids. When my twins were infants, I would bundle them up in the jogging stroller and take them out for a jog or a walk. As they got older, I could walk or jog around the track while they biked. Eventually, I could walk or jog with them alongside me. Taking long walks with my tween daughter was extremely helpful for both of us at one point.
Exercise while your kids are doing something else
Once my children became school-aged, I often had to take them to various afterschool activities. For example, I would drop my youngest daughter off at gymnastics for her 90-minute practice. Instead of waiting at the gymnasium with her, I would drop her off and use that time to exercise. Sometimes I would go to the gym and other times I would go for a walk or jog in the neighborhood near her gymnasium. When she played soccer, I would walk or jog around a nearby track during her soccer practice.
Exercise while your kids get themselves ready for school
As my children got older and became capable of getting themselves ready for school, I realized that the early morning was a perfect time for exercise. My teen-aged kids wake up and begin to make noise around 7am and leave the house around 8am. I am always awakened by their noises. Thus, I get myself out of bed, put on my jogging clothes, and go out for a 30-minute jog in the morning while my kids shower and get dressed. I then make it back in time to have breakfast with them. The bonus is that I don’t have to hear the kids arguing about whose turn it is to take a shower!
Just do it
I have been meaning to do yoga on a more regular basis for years. However, the class schedules never seem to align perfectly with my schedule. My gym has an 8am yoga class that I really enjoy on Tuesdays. That doesn’t work perfectly with my schedule because the class is from 8am to 9am, and it means I don’t get home until 9:15, and I can’t realistically start working until about 9:45. That puts a real dent in my morning productivity. However, I made a decision that I am going to just do it. I am going to go to my once-a-week yoga class even if it means I will have a little less time for writing on Tuesdays. I have been doing that for about a month, and, guess what, everything is fine!
Have walking meetings
One way to get some mild exercise into your day is to have walking meetings. For example, if you need to meet with a student and the weather is nice, you can offer to walk and talk for your meeting. I have also gotten into the habit of arranging my phone meetings at times when I can take the phone call while walking. That way, a 30-minute phone call turns into a 30-minute walk. Of course, there are some meetings that require you to be in front of a laptop. But, there are many that solely require your attention.
It can be challenging to find time to exercise when you have kids of any age. However, if you are creative with your schedule and willing to prioritize getting in your exercise, you should be able to make it happen.
What are your tips for finding time to exercise when you have young children?