It’s really hard to prioritize your health when you have little kids who wake up a lot at night, but here's how I do it!
Just one verse each day.
If you had asked me a year and a half ago if I knew anything about fitness as a mom of four little kids, I would have laughed.
But shortly after I had my fourth baby, I felt like my health hit a low point. I didn’t feel great, and I wanted to make a change.
A friend mentioned that reading Atomic Habits jump-started her own fitness journey, so I checked it out from the library. As cheesy as it sounds, it honestly did change my life.
I’ve written before about how I started exercising regularly for the first time since college after reading it. At this point, 18 months after reading it, I’m still going strong working out 5-6 days per week.
And I’ve never felt better, both physically and mentally. To quote a funny Tweet, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news but whoever said working out is good for your mental health was onto something.”
But for most of my motherhood journey, working out regularly felt impossible. How was I supposed to make time to move my body when I was already at my limit taking care of so many other little bodies?
If this is you right now, I want to share what I’ve learned, hopefully to give you the tools to make regular exercise part of your life too. Here’s how I fit in exercise (almost) daily as a stay-at-home mom of four little kids.
1Make it as easy and automatic as possible
Now that I’ve been doing this for a while, I don’t care if my kids are awake and running around during my workout. Sometimes I pick up my toddler while I work out if she wants to be held (she’s basically a free weight!). Sometimes my older kids want to exercise with me. Often, I pause the workout to attend to something one of them needs, and then get back to it as quickly as I can. Mostly, they’re used to me working out and leave me alone.
But when I started out, interruptions while working out felt really stressful and hard. So I came up with a system to get that uninterrupted workout time.
I would exercise during my baby’s first nap of the day, so she wasn’t crawling all over me. And at the time, my kids were watching a daily Spanish language video (a free series called Salsa). So I would start their Spanish video right before my workout video.
The nap plus screen time combo was pretty reliable to ensure an uninterrupted workout. And knowing that the Spanish video would end soon (and the baby would wake up soon!) gave me a needed sense of urgency to stay on track and finish the workout video.
I need to put in a plug here for FitOn, a free workout app with a really impressive array of excellent exercise videos. It’s what I’ve used at home for the past year and a half and it’s been really helpful.
Having an automatic cue every day that signaled it was time to start working out really helped. I didn’t have to think about it or make a decision: I just started when the cue came around. And it helped that the cue came at the time of day when I had the most energy: Getting up early to work out would not have worked for this night owl!
So the first key is finding a time of day and cue that makes it easy and automatic to work out. You want the habit to feel like second nature.
You can definitely exercise however you want, and lots of people advise choosing a kind of movement you love doing. But for me, I have limited time to work out (about 20 minutes a day) so I want to get the maximum impact in that time.
I read that building muscle isn’t just efficient but also helps you burn calories and preserve brain function. So I took up strength training and weight lifting, thanks to free videos on FitOn and a set of adjustable dumbbells from Aldi.
3Chase your kids!
Little kids love getting chased around, and by tracking with a step counter, I’ve discovered I can easily get thousands more steps a day by chasing them around the yard or playground for a while. Plus they think I’m super fun when I play with them this way. It’s a win all around!
Before I started trying to be more active, I would just sit on a bench at the playground. Now, I pretend to be a dinosaur or ring wraith (my son is in a Lord of the Rings phase) and honestly, it really makes a difference.
Earlier this week, I chased them around the yard for half an hour and literally got 3,000 more steps than the day before, when I hadn’t played with them that way. Those steps really add up!
4Clean your house
Another trick for getting in more steps when you can’t go outside is to deep clean your house. I know, I know, the opposite of fun. But vacuuming and mopping my floors always get me thousands of steps. When I have my baby in a carrier on my back, it’s even more efficient exercise! (If you are easily bored, like me, try listening to an audiobook or podcast on Bluetooth headphones while you clean.)
So I guess I have to begrudgingly acknowledge that trying to be more active also helps me be a better mom and housekeeper, on top of improving my mental and physical health. Which just seems like it can’t be real!
These are some of the ways I stay active as a homeschooling mom of four little kids. It’s really not easy to prioritize your health while you’re “in the trenches” of little kids who still wake up a lot at night and are very needy (I’m right there with you!).
But hopefully you can find inspiration here to get some more movement in your day. There’s no downside, and every part of your life will improve. Take it from this girl who used to call herself “allergic to exercise.” If I could get into fitness, just about anyone can!