How to find time for self-care and exercise, including tips from a parent AND personal trainer

"Are you good at fitting in self-care?" asks a PSP Member. They go on to write, "I really want right now is to return to regular exercise but I find the exhaustion and the lack of time hard to negotiate. Do you have any tips? How do you get your hands free when your kid literally always wants to be holding your hand?"

Here are PSP member replies...


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Advice on working out from a parent and personal trainer, workout with the kids even if it’s for short bursts of time:

"You are definitely not alone!! I'm a personal trainer, group fitness instructor and someone who *needs* to exercise for mental health; here's my take on exercise with little kids:

  • Do the best you can with what you have. You're probably not going to get back to your pre-kid exercise schedule for a while, but you can do something.

  • Don't skip it altogether if you can't do an hour work out with the kids. My 17 month old is suuuper clingy right now, and I've been known to use her as my resistance tool. She's about as heavy as the kettlebell and is happy to snuggle whole I do lunges and squats. My husband is a big fan of the 7 minute workout and both kids love to "help" him with it before work

  • Get comfortable with short workouts. I often get 20 minutes total for my own workout and I make the most of it try to incorporate your exercise time into something else. Once a month I meet a friend for a walking lap around Prospect Park to talk business. I've also scheduled walking meeting with coworkers if that's possible. Jog around the playground, etc.

  • Tack your workout time onto your work day or commute time. If you leave at 6, go straight to the gym before going home once a week. Or try to fit a quick one in at lunch.

  • I'm a big believer in our kids seeing us take care of ourselves. Let them know you deserve an hour to yourself on Saturday to do something good for your body.

  • Finally, patience. You are IN IT right now, but it's going to get so much easier in a few more months/years. The sleep will come back, your schedule will open up as they have their own weekend activities, etc. Remember that this is the longest shortest time and you can only do what you can do for now."


As other parents echo:


Take advantage of small breaks of time-10 or 15 minutes-to practice self care:

 “I feel your pain (two FT working parents, two kids) [...] The sad reality is that I didn’t really get to fit in any self care on a regular basis (usually exercise) until the youngest was 4. It is very hard/virtually impossible to take care of yourself with two careers and two very small kids! Try to make space for small moments to yourself. (There will come a day when the kids can change their own clothes, read books on their own, don’t need to be fed, etc. and you will have more time back). For now, my advice is to aim small and find something very easy and manageable. A little bit of something (maybe 10-15 minutes of daily stretching/yoga?) is better than nothing.”


Combine working out into your commute:

“My kids are 5 and almost 3 now, but when they were younger I found the only way for me to get a workout in during the week was to run (part way) home from work. I bought a small running backpack (big enough for my milk cooler because I was still pumping), I would bring my running clothes and backpack to work, and then I would change at work, take the subway into Brooklyn, and run the rest of the way home. I usually ran about 3 miles, but of course you can customize it based on when you get off the train. I tried to do it 2 times a week, plus a run on a weekend day. For me, it was really the only way for a year or so. It was easier to set aside that time because it would partially have been taken up by commuting anyway. And once I had taken all my stuff to work I pretty much never flaked on the run because it was too depressing to bring it all and then not go! That’s the best tip I have - hope you get lots of others too!"


Sleep should be a priority:

“You are not alone! I totally feel you. My advice is just to hang on, prioritize sleep over everything (early bedtimes, alternating naps with your partner on the weekends), and just wait it out. It’s just a totally brutal time. Mine are now 2 and almost 5 and we’re finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sleep is getting more consistent, the kids will play together without us for sometimes 15 minutes at a time even! :) If you can commit to regular date nights (once every week or two) so you get some real grownup time, all the other nights where you just go straight to bed in exhaustion don’t seem like such a bummer. And join the ymca - the child watch is a lifesaver! We go as a family on Sunday mornings. Even though I wish I could go more, that at least makes me feel like I’m not a complete bum. Do what you can, and don’t expect too much at this point. Hang in there! Good luck!


Stop striving for perfection, and those small minutes add up:

“I'm not a master at time management, but I'm writing with some encouragement for fitting in exercise. I work full time, as does my husband, and we have a 6 year old. I work out 3-4 times per week, at a gym, and it is the thing that keeps me sane. All that being said, not every workout has to be perfect, not every workout has to be at the gym, not every workout has to cover everything, etc. Allow yourself to accept and practice that its perfectly fine to fit in 10 minutes at a time. There's loads you can do in your living room with zero equipment (eg squats, pushups, bridges, etc) and loads more you can do with a set of mini bands.”


Establish small targets in routine activities:

"You can set "entry fees" for rooms to your apartment such as every time you go into your bedroom you do 10 pushups. There's a lot of studies that indicate that all of the minutes add up, and there's not much difference to you body from doing a 40 minute workout at once or 4 ten minute blocks over the course of the day."


Take advantage of time right before and after work to work out, and use your lunch breaks too:

“As far as what works for me, it helps that my husband is not a gym goer, so the time is mine to take. I sometimes go during my lunch hour (when I know the evening hours aren't going to work), I take a 7am class once a week and still make it to work on time, and I often go around 7PM, when my husband is home and he puts the kid to bed without me (other nights I do it without him as he often works late). I imagine it’s different with two kids. If finding an hour is too hard, start with getting consistent on 10 minutes a day.”

“I have no great tips but am writing with support and solidarity. My husband and are also work outside the home, I have a one hour commute. Our 11 month old daughter has some good nights but many interrupted nights between teething, colds, etc. Of all the things I miss about my pre-baby life, working out regularly is the number one. Not just for my physical, but mental health mostly. I was even at the 9th St. Y consistently until my 8th month of pregnancy. The only things I am doing now are: getting off the subway one stop early in the a.m., religiously taking a walk during lunch, about 30 mins. Our daycare is a 15 minute walk, so I have that in the evenings. Some nights when she goes to bed super early (thanks crappy day care naps) I do some stretching in front of the TV. Not as good as a yoga class, but it's something to get the kinks out. I hope you get and share some great ideas..."


Plan your gym membership strategically:

"Join a gym with outposts VERY near home and work - for me it's NY Sports club with branches all over midtown and 2 within a 10 minute walk from my home in Brooklyn (rare I realize) so days I telecommute I try to get to a midday class instead of taking lunch, and if I work late that's the night I try to get to a class near work."


More on PSP:

Decompressing: How to Unwind After Work

Parental Burnout