By Bianca Sainty, health & fitness coach for working mums
I’m a working mum, and like all of you out there, I know a thing or two about juggling responsibilities. There’s work (or running a business), children, family, pets, food, shopping, laundry, admin… The list goes on and on. And we all know how stressful it can get.
Then there’s looking after ourselves. ‘Bottom of the pile’ sound familiar? We know we should exercise for our physical and mental well-being. But so often this becomes a source of stress and guilt too. I mean, when and how are we supposed to find the time?
For me, the key is to think about movement rather than formal exercise. It’s a subtle difference, but it changes everything and makes it so much more achievable to do daily. And therefore less stressful. So let’s explore how you can fit more movement into your everyday life as a working mum.
Think movement rather than ‘exercise’
First things first, I’d like us to let go of this idea that as working mums we have to find time to go to the gym, join a class, or do x amount of weekly workouts in our living room. We don’t. We don’t unless we want to. And if we don’t want to, there’s plenty more we can do instead.
So let’s do this right now – let’s move away from this idea of formal exercise and think about movement instead. I give you full permission, from now on, to stop obsessing about having to do a workout every day.
Because as a working mum you already have a lot on your plate. You are juggling enough as it is, and that’s immensely stressful. So the last thing you want is to add another stress factor into your already busy life.
Great. Because all activity and movement are good. And the more little bits of movement we can add throughout the day, the better it is for our overall health. Moving helps us avoid stiffness, back pain, and postural problems amongst other things. Especially if we sit at a desk for the best part of our days.
Now, I’m not saying that, as mums, there aren’t certain ‘boxes’ we should tick. Maintaining muscle strength and bone density are important factors for us to consider (especially as we head towards the peri-menopause, menopause and beyond). And I’ll soon be sharing my thoughts on how to create a balanced and effective exercise plan that ticks all these boxes without adding stress to your busy life, so watch this space.
But for now, let’s focus on movement…
Working Mums, let’s get planning!
You and I both know what all mums are awesome at planning. Thinking ahead. Being organised and prepping in advance. Sure, we’re all different, and some of us do this more naturally than others. But the truth is, when you’re a mum, planning comes with the territory!
We all know how having the kids’ school clothes, bags, and shoes laid out the night before saves time, avoids the “Mum, I-can’t-find-my-X!” chaos, and makes the morning routine a lot easier! (Okay, we might not always plan so well, but we know it makes a difference when we do.)
When it comes to our children and family or home life (and even work), we plan all the time. We do this every day, whether we’re aware of it or not. So now it’s time to turn that skill to our own benefit. Because when it comes to being consistent with health and fitness (like in other areas of life), planning as a working mum is key.
So let’s try this
At the weekend, make yourself a nice cup of tea, grab your diary, and take 10 minutes to look at the week ahead. This is your chance to identify your windows of opportunity for movement. I recommend you aim to move for 30 minutes every day – if you have longer, that’s great. But if you don’t, 30 minutes is absolutely fine.
And the great news is that it doesn’t even have to be all at once. So where are those potential movement windows in your week? Find them and highlight them – plan them in.
Perhaps you’ll find this is a lot easier to do on the days you’re working from home. But even if you’re in the office environment all day a few days a week, don’t fret.
You really don’t need to put yourself under pressure to find time for more on those days that already feel packed to the brim with work or other responsibilities. You can break down your 30 minutes of movement into 10-minute chunks. And aren’t 10 minutes a lot easier to find, even when you’re in the office?
Ideas to fit movement into your everyday life for working mums
So what are some of the things you can do to make movement integral to your day?
Ideas for movement when you work from home
On the days that you work from home, can you…
- Tag some movement onto the back of the school run? If you normally drive to school, can you perhaps walk or jog instead while the children take a scooter? Or maybe only drive part of the way and walk the rest?
- Head straight to the park after drop-off for a brisk walk, a jog, or a run? It’s even better if you can take some other mums with you for company. That way you benefit from the social aspect too. And you’re more likely to go as you won’t want to let them down.
- Can you take the dog for a walk?
- On these days, you might even have time and energy for a workout at home. And if you do and want some inspiration and ideas, you can find a variety of 20 and 30 minute whole-body workout videos on my YouTube channel.
Doing something straight off the back of the school run is smart as it’s tagging a new habit onto one that is already firmly in your schedule, so you are more likely to do it.
It’s also great for another reason
You’re creating some valuable ‘transition time’ for yourself, something which can sometimes be tricky to find when you work from home. It gives you a little time and space to transition from ‘mum mode’ into ‘work mode’.
On the days you commute to the office, the commute allows you this space, but when you work from home, you might not have that luxury, so this is one way you can create that time for yourself.
Set yourself up for success
Want a super simple habit-hack that taps into those prepping skills we talked about, and that will set you up for success? Lay your kit out the night before. That way in the morning you don’t waste time, energy and brainpower (scarce in my case before I’ve drunk coffee!) trying to decide what to put on. You have already made the decision and set your intention, so you can just pull on your kit, knowing that you’re ready for action as soon as your pre-identified movement window arrives.
I personally practise this habit every night when I change into my PJs. Getting a sweat on every day is essential for me to reduce overwhelm and to feel happier, but I still resist it and create all manner of mental hurdles for myself. I can tell you honestly that laying my kit out the night before has really worked for me in creating a more consistent movement habit.
Ideas for movement when you’re in the office
On the days you’re in the office, let’s just acknowledge that hybrid working is stressful enough without trying to wedge in some fitness pre- or post-commute. So to keep stress levels under control, you want to plan your movement into your working day rather than as an ‘add-on’ after you finish work. Chances are you’ll be too tired to do it (or pulled in too many other directions), and no one could blame you for not getting it done!
So what can you do instead?
- Could you go for a lunchtime walk?
- Perhaps you can grab a colleague you need to speak to and have a walk-and-talk meeting rather than a sit-down one?
- Can you use part of your commute to or from work to move your body? Maybe by getting off the bus or tube a stop earlier?
- Can you use the loo on a different floor or take the stairs instead of the lift throughout the day?
Here’s another tactic. Why not talk to your colleagues about wanting to move more during the day?
Brainstorm ideas and I’m sure that together you’ll come up with some brilliant ways to move more in the day. You can also become accountability partners for each other and remind and encourage each other to move.
I find that sharing my intention with people around me makes it easier to stick to. Plus, if they join in with me, time passes more quickly and it’s so much more fun!
It’s not just about how to fit movement into your everyday life working mums though. Hybrid working is stressful enough! So for more information on how to deal with those super busy days, head over to my blog post, How to lower stress while hybrid working.
Ideas for movement on the weekend
At the weekend, why not get the kids involved? Again, don’t be too hung up on what type of activity you are doing. Kicking a ball around in the park, playing French cricket, or jumping in puddles will do wonders for your and your kids’ wellbeing. Plus, you’ll be spending quality time together as a family too. So don’t put yourself under too much pressure!
And if you do get the chance to get some time for yourself to do a workout (perhaps because your partner is also at home for the weekend) grab that opportunity without guilt. If it makes you a better, happier, more relaxed person and a role model for your children, what’s not to like?
In fact, there’s a lot to like about this as according to research conducted by Sport England, while “Six in ten (61%) mums reveal they would feel guilty about taking time to exercise”, it appears that “mothers have a greater influence on their children’s activity levels compared to fathers and seven in ten (69%) mums think it is important for their children to see them exercising”. So embrace it.
Because by making movement visible to your children, you’re not only becoming a role model for them but also encouraging them to move more.
Whatever movement you choose to do, I would always encourage you to do things you enjoy. Making it fun is key, because you’re more likely to stick at it, to turn up regularly and to continue doing it for the long-term. Why make things harder for yourself by forcing yourself to do something you don’t enjoy? Life’s too short!
Would you like some help to fit more movement into your everyday life as a working mum?
If you’d like to join my upcoming workshop on How to create a stress-free movement plan that fits in your life, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out the details. I will help you create a movement plan that’s achievable for you and your fitness levels, and that fits effortlessly into your busy life.
If you’re the kind of mum that doesn’t feel comfortable with exercise and is ready to ditch the guilt about not sticking to a regular healthy habit, then my Fit from Within coaching programme could be for you.