Subscribe to this Blog
Today's Blogs
    The Checkup:

Chasing Rugrats Is Not Exercise, Researchers Say

Looking over beach photos a couple of months ago, I was forced to accept what the scale had been telling me for the past year or so: I had begun to really pack on the pounds. Thinking over the way my weight had bounced around over the past decade, I was pretty sure I knew what the culprit was: I wasn't parenting as hard as I used to.

When my eldest was little, I was always on the move. We were a one-car family, which meant that I was hoofing it everywhere: to the park, to the coffee shop, to the grocery story. After a couple of years, our stroller was trashed and the kid-carrying backpack was faded from all of the wear. And while I wasn't exactly in shape, I was able to get away with the fact that becoming a parent destroyed whatever fragile exercise routine I enjoyed as a childless twenty-something. As the kids aged, the need to set out on foot shrank, and the waistline expanded.

So I was doubtful when MSNBC ran a story last week that said that new moms -- despite feeling like they'd been running around like crazy -- actually massively overstated that amount of physical activity they were getting. Most figured that keeping up with toddlers was giving them an hour of exercise; the reality is that only a third were getting the 30 minutes that they needed. The fix, according to the researcher Kelli O'Neil: "Schedule your workouts just like you do a meeting."

Like everything else with parenting, that's easier said than done. I spent August trying to schedule runs, hoping to make a five-mile jog part of my lunchtime routine. Didn't work. In my zeal, I did bump up the number of times I laced up, but it often ended up happening long after dark, when all of the loose ends were tied up. I switched running routes, favoring zigzagging paths with streetlights and sidewalks over more scenic or straightforward loops.

The weight has slowly begun to come off, but I have little faith that I'm on a sustainable path. Have any of you managed to make parenting a part of your exercise routine (or vice versa)? Or do we have to forget multitasking and fiercely protect whatever gym time we can get?

By Brian Reid |  September 21, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Previous: Youth Sports Builds Better... Parents? | Next: Five Toys That Need a Rebirth


"The fix, according to the researcher Kelli O'Neil: "Schedule your workouts just like you do a meeting." "

And who exactly is going to watch my baby, my 2 year old and my 4 year old during these scheduled workouts? A gym with a creche is an unaffordable dream right now; they can't be left alone; and I'm on my own with at least one of them from about 7:00 in the morning until at least 7:00 in the evening, and bedtime is at 8:00... And exercising immediately before bedtime isn't much of an option.

I do wonder who these researchers are sometimes ... and what kind of help they have at home ... and what kind of income supports their 'schedules'.

Posted by: raynecloud | September 21, 2009 7:30 AM | Report abuse

"Have any of you managed to make parenting a part of your exercise routine (or vice versa)? Or do we have to forget multitasking and fiercely protect whatever gym time we can get?"

Depends on how old your kids are. I think a lot of this was discussed a couple weeks ago on the post with the dad that formed the "dads running club".

Whether you join a gym with childcare, swap out with other parents for an hour or get up at 5:00 to get a run in - you gotta do what you gotta do. After kids are in sports/activities it gets a little easier - if you are organized. I see plenty of parents dropping off at soccer/football and strapping on a pair of running shoes and running around the field or in the general area.

The key is putting exercise first on your list - otherwise it won't happen.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | September 21, 2009 7:35 AM | Report abuse

raynecloud, I hear your frustration and am in exactly the same predicament (3 kids under 4 years old, gym memberships and child-watching are not in the budget). I exercise when I know my partner will be home to watch the kids: 5AM, 3x/week, with a neighborhood group. I'm so short on sleep as it is that waking up early (heck, sometimes not really making it to bed at night for more than a nap) isn't too bothersome. I get up, I get out, I get it over with and am home by 7. Oh, and I demand time for a shower on these mornings!

Good luck - it will take you some time to find the right combination of sleep/exercise/child watching, but I have found it incredibly rewarding for my mental (and physical) health.

Kudos, cheekymonkey, if you're strapping on the shoes to run while you're kids are on the field, etc. That is precious time and awesome multi-tasking. You GO!

Posted by: CentreOfNowhere1 | September 21, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

Several years ago, we bought a wii. which is a good way to get everyone off the couch while they're playing video games.

About a year and a half ago, my DH bought the wii fit. So, we both started to use it.

For him, he gets up at 6 and works out. For me, many days I just can't get up and work out. These days, my kid has chosen me to be the designated walker with him (DH gets duty as of Jan 1). So I walk the 1 1/2 miles round trip, strapping on my weights on my ankles. It's something. And So my goal with the wii fit is 20 min in the AM and 20 min in the PM - knowing full well if I got to do that EVERY DAY (except Saturdays) I would be stick thin. So I do what I can,w ith that goal in mind. It's been kinda working. no need for childcare, the only expense is batteries.

DH has been biking to and from work now, since january. He's been dropping the pounds like crazy. And he's gotten the rest of the fam involved. We biked a bunch to the pool this summer, have bought all sorts of contraptions for the bicycles to tow the 4 YO, (the 7YO is fine by himself). He's been dropping the 4 YO off on the bike and I've been picking him up in the car. Once this rain lets up (doesn't look like it will happen for at least a week) and it's cool enough in the afternoon, I can pick him up too.

Every little bit helps.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | September 21, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Although, between kids one and two, i lost so much weight...was much lighter when i got pregnant the second time than i'd been in years.
Of course, that went to he** after kid no. two.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | September 21, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse

If you work and can fit it in, I think a membership to a nearby gym for lunch hour workouts is worth it. My husband works out 3x a week at lunch. I'm home, and run with my baby in a jogging stroller either when my husband is home or my 4-y-o is in preschool. We each run once over the weekend. You do have to make it a priority, and encourage each other to take the time and not feel guilty about the dishes/messy house/crying child that could also use your attention. We try to keep our kids active, too. My doc said it best--"A healthy parent really is a gift for your child."

Posted by: sjneal | September 21, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

After I had my first daughter, I signed up for Strollerfit, an exercise class meant to be done with the baby. It was great -- I didn't have to leave her, but I could still get a good workout. Once she started walking, the class became less useful and then the franchise closed.

I haven't figured out a workout groove with two kids yet. I do belong to a gym with good child care, but somehow I keep forgetting to call and make an appointment for the baby the required 48 hours in advance (a lousy excuse, I know). So I've been trying to take walks with the kids and otherwise resist being a couch potato. I keep telling myself I'll do better once the baby is (a) sleeping through the night, and (b) sleeping in her own bed.

Posted by: newsahm | September 21, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

My husband works out 3x a week at lunch.

Posted by: sjneal | September 21, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

How much time does your DH get for lunch that it's enough for travel time, a decent workout, shower, etc.?

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 21, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

"Every little bit helps."

Well yeah, but the problem is that people do only a little bit and think that it helps more than it does. I try not to snicker when I hear a co-worker claim that they keep in shape by parking further out in the parking lot, taking the steps instead of the elevator, and giving the dog a walk a few times a week. Um, uh, good activities for the elderly, but for those of child rearing years, they need to engage in an activity where they break a sweat a few times a week if they want to work off the daily bagel and cream cheese habit they formed before they had children.

I think the study is interesting in that it confirms what the childless already think of us parents. We do have a tendency to exagerate when it comes to eevaluating the level of effort we spend taking care of our kids.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | September 21, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I realized at the park yesterday that "chasing the rugrats" means VERY different things to different people. I climb all over the jungle gym with my son, slide with him, walk with him, etc, etc. Taking him to the park is a workout!

The other parents there stood on the sidelines or sat on the benches. For them, NO, it's not a workout to go to the park!

and...hooray for breastfeeding! Despite eating everything in sight, including an astounding number of cookies and cupcakes, I continue to lose a pound or two every month! Now I'm down to 10 pounds less than when I got pregnant. :)

Posted by: newslinks1 | September 21, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

I gave up my exercising for a while but then decided that keeping my health was far more important than anything else I could do for my family. I make it a priority over all the other time sucking tasks that exist.

My husband and I switch off on the weekends. One stays home with the kids while the other goes to the gym. Sometimes, we head to the park and one of us walks to the gym while the other watches the kids in the park and then we switch.

During the week, when we had the kids, I simply didn't go home after work. I headed right to the gym. If I didn't, I would get sucked into the whole routine of supper and homework and... and... Even now that we don't have the kids, I still go to the gym right after work.

Posted by: Billie_R | September 21, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse

It's funny how caring for children can be so physically stressful yet not actually provide much in the way of exercise. Our kids' day care providers would often report muscle strain from lifting babies, etc, yet they were a pretty portly group partly because most of the day was pretty sedentary (especially in the baby room, where you might spend the whole day rocking one baby after another.) Yet another reason to appreciate your day care provider!

Posted by: bubba777 | September 21, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

"and...hooray for breastfeeding! Despite eating everything in sight, including an astounding number of cookies and cupcakes, I continue to lose a pound or two every month! Now I'm down to 10 pounds less than when I got pregnant."

Consider yourself lucky. Even when I was working out 3x a week and following Weight Watchers carefully, I gained weight steadily when I was nursing (to the tune of 1/2-1 pound a week). It was incredibly frustrating. (as an aside, you have not seen "hostile" until you've tried to convince a WW counselor that you are in fact following the program, even though you're gaining weight).

Oddly, this time around, even though I'm neither really exercising nor dieting, I'm gaining weight at the same pace as I did when I was being "good." It's still frustrating, but at least this time I can blame the fact that I'm not really trying to keep it off.

Posted by: newsahm | September 21, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

"I'm on my own with at least one of them from about 7:00 in the morning until at least 7:00 in the evening, and bedtime is at 8:00... And exercising immediately before bedtime isn't much of an option."

I do wonder who these researchers are sometimes ... and what kind of help they have at home ... and what kind of income supports their 'schedules'.

Posted by: raynecloud
raynecloud, you seem to question the findings. You have probably seen from the previous posts that many people have the same schedule as you do but are able to work out in the morning or evening. Unless you are only awake from 7AM to 8PM, there seems to be some hours in there to at least get 30 min in. It's not a question of income or help, it's a question of commitment and priorities. In my opinion, if you started on a workout schedule, you would find that you actually have more energy during the day and feel less exhausted in the evening.

Posted by: pipe1 | September 21, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Jezebel3--With his current job, he about a 5 min. drive from his gym, so he can either run or do weights, shower and get back to work within an hour. (We live in suburban Ohio now, but he did the same thing when we lived in DC and worked out near Vienna.) He tried to find a place as close as possible to minimize the drive, and it's not his "ideal" gym, but it's got treadmills and weights.

We've both had cut back on the actual workouts we used to do in our pre-kid days of working out after work. (Once upon a time, he actually worked for a company that gave employees a 90 min. lunch if they took the time to work out! Sigh.) But, I still think a 20-min run/work out is better than nothing. Sometimes he has meetings and he can't make it, other times he's swamped with work and can't do it, but he has a packed gym bag with him every day so he can grab it and go. Same with my running--I've always got clothes, shoes, watch, etc. sitting on the stroller ready to go to make it easier to squeeze it in. I've also worked at offices that have locker rooms so employees can run/bike during lunch if they wanted to, and many did. Admittedly, the shower-during-the-workday thing is easier for guys since there's no make-up/hairdrying time to factor in.

Posted by: sjneal | September 21, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

It is so difficult, especially when they are young. Here are my tips for the moms of little ones. Put the kiddos in the stroller and go for walks, it may not be hard core cardio, but every little bit helps. See if there is another mom you can swap kids with even a couple of times a week to talk a walk or bike ride. Check with your local YMCA if cost is an issue, they are very comitted to making sure every family has access and can often offer discounted memberships. Biking if you have access to a trail. Look for a cheap trailer or check the bike shops around this time of year when they put their demo and rental equipment on sale. We used to put my daughter in the trailer with a drink and bag of pretzles and some books while my son was on the tag along and have a family bike day.

Good luck, if nothing else, they will grow up and things will even out more, so don't be too hard on yourself! I will add it is as good for my head as it is my behind.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | September 21, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

I'm lucky, I have a gym with plenty of possiblilities for the children: up to three hours in care (Creche?) a day wih no previous notice, swimming, sports, baby & Mom, arts classes, so its easy to keep the children active while I exercise.

4 year old does swimming, taekwondo and gymnastics, 2½ year old swimming, taekwondo and babygym (without mom), and baby is in baby & mom with me, and will start baby & mom swimming once we pass a bout of the flu. All spend some time in the care.

So, apart from going from gym to care to their activities a couple of times during exercise, its easy for me.

Husband, though, is a very different story. Works very long hours indeed, and just can't find out how to schedule in exercise in the program. I think he needs to get up earlier, but he is so short on sleep that he just doesn't manage.

Total: three children later I am thinner than before and he is developing a belly.

Posted by: Mmex | September 21, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Wii Fit at nap time, for those at home with little ones!!! It has worked wonders for me. I am much more fit that I was before the baby.

Posted by: ishgebibble | September 21, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

I just cannot justify another hour a day away from my kids, so that leaves before 6am and after 8pm. Maybe if kid #2 decides to start sleeping well, that will be a viable option. As it is, I eat well and try to get out as a family on weekends. I do miss exercise. I'm one of the fortunate ones who doesn't have weight issues, but I really need to get my muscle mass back and watch out for my cardiovascular health.

Posted by: atb2 | September 21, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Oddly, this time around, even though I'm neither really exercising nor dieting, I'm gaining weight at the same pace as I did when I was being "good." It's still frustrating, but at least this time I can blame the fact that I'm not really trying to keep it off.

Posted by: newsahm | September 21, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

I have the same problem. Breastfeeding signifies weight gain for me. The main reason is that when I bf, I feel famished almost all the time. So I eat more, and gain weight. I seem to have no control over my appetite these days. It was the same when I was breastfeeding my older son. Thankfully, when I stopped, the hungre pangs went away and I lost weight. For the moment, I can't be too concerned about the weight. I will deal with that after my daughter is weaned.

Posted by: emily8 | September 21, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

wasn't there a study recently that said adequate sleep was MORE important to your overall health than working out?

Posted by: moxiemom1 | September 21, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Exercise is really important but I never managed it in an orderly way until my children were late elementary school-aged.

At that point my husband could watch them while I went out to the gym. While I got fitter there wasn't much budging of my weight on a scale.

It's pretty well documented that exercise alone does not result in weight gain.

IF you want to drop pounds you need to reduce what you eat. That doesn't require any time away from your children, it requires you to stop stuffing your mouth!

Posted by: RedBird27 | September 21, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

After trying a bunch of different ways to fit exercise into my life as a full-time working mom, we ended up turning our basement into a gym/play room. Every morning my toddler and I go down there and he plays trains while I squeeze in a 45 minute workout. I really miss working out by myself without a 2 year old asking me what I'm doing. And I really miss working out in a real gym with lots of equipment but this has been the only way I can keep dedicated exercise time in my life. Is it the same? Definitely not. But when you have kids the rules change and I think the workouts need to as well.

I think most moms can find ways to schedule a workout that involves the kids in some way. It's not ideal but I encourage moms to try.

Lisa Walker, Family Editor,

Posted by: lisahw | September 21, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

redbird: but the important thing is being more fit and healthy. What the scale says is less so.
I weigh only a few pounds less than a few months ago when I started my 'workout regimen.' But I can walk further, I can climb stairs, I can do all sorts of things, without being out of breath. If I don't drop the weight, well, it's not the end of the world, but being more in shape is what's most important.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | September 21, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

There are a lot of little things you can do in lieu of a full-scale workout. When you're at the playground, do some chin ups on the monkey bars. If your kids want you to stay with them for a bit at bedtime, bring up some dumbells and do some curls. There are a lot of places like that where you can fit some exercise in.

Posted by: dennis5 | September 21, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

There's so many factors to consider - exercise, and what we eat, how much we eat, when and where we eat it...

For most of my life - the first 40 years anyway - I could eat anything and everything, and not think about it. I had to pay a little bit of attention when I was in the Air Force. It was my first desk job, and there were always donuts and other treats around. When I realized my uniforms were getting a little bit tight, I stopped eating the junk. Other than that, no worries.

Both boys were born while I was in my 30's and (lucky me) nursing burned off my pregnancy weight. But once I hit 40 my weight started to creep up. At 48 I was a heavy as I'd been by the end of both pregnancies. And packing around 170 pounds on a skeleton that's only intended to hold up 120-130 is NO FUN!

So, when I finally realized I needed to do something (yes, "DUH!") I stopped eating lunch. For the last two years, I just eat two meals each day. My weight's back to 130, and I look and feel so much better.

Yes, exercising is important too - but I've always included a lot of walking in my daily routines. My commute includes a quarter-to-half-mile walk to the casual carpool pick-up in the morning, and 3/4 mile walk from the drop-off to my office. Then the same walks in reverse going home. And I'll drag DH and the boys out for hikes on week ends as often as I can coerce them.

For me, realizing that my revved-up metabolism had changed was the key to getting fit and keeping that way - my exercise levels and muscles didn't change, but my requirements for fuel did. I simply didn't need as much food anymore.

But everybody's body is different - what works for me might not work for someone else. They'll have to find a different solution.

Just try to remember it's a lifetime thing. A few years of less-than-prefection, while kids are at a particularly difficult or challenging stage, isn't going to stay that way for the rest of our lives or our kids's lives. There will be time to change what needs to change, and time to figure out specifically what the changes need to be.

Posted by: SueMc | September 21, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Babies make excellent weights, too! My husband does a modified 8-Count Bodybuilders with our son. He (the baby) thinks it's hysterical! But since he weighs 25 pounds, it's real exercise after awhile.

Re nursing and losing weight: I didn't start losing until about 5 months post-partum. I might have even gained those first few months. I wasn't paying attention. But around 5-6 months, the weight started steadily coming off. I have been ravenous the whole time and eat tons, so it's been such a pleasant surprise to lose weight anyway!

Posted by: newslinks1 | September 21, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

"A few years of less-than-prefection, while kids are at a particularly difficult or challenging stage, isn't going to stay that way for the rest of our lives or our kids's lives."

This was a big deal for me. I've been so frustrated with weight, activity level, etc., and my apparent inability to find a consistent time to do anything about it. But it's really ok to do what you can, and acknowledge that it will get better.

Of course, the other part for me was stopping with the excuses for the time I did have. Maybe I couldn't manage a full 1.5-hr gym session at my ideal time of day (@ 3:30-5 -- yeah, right). But that was no excuse for flopping on the couch in front of the TV all night, when I could be watching the exact same TV shows from the treadmill.

The real question is whether you're actually trying to find a way to exercise or are looking for an excuse not to. I excelled at the latter. It took a lot of conscious rethinking to turn "but I don't want to exercise right before bed" into "try it and see -- if it keeps you up, then you can try something else." Same with early AM -- "but I'll be too tired!" became "try it and see -- if you're too tired after a week, you can do something else." I still don't like it, but at least now I know that those excuses are crap.

One other big key was that DH and I went in this together. We each watch the kids in the AM/PM/weekends to give the other time to exercise. Some mornings, we get up at 5:30 to fit in a quick 30-minute workout before the kids wake up -- totally blows, I am NOT a morning person, but it gets it done. Other times, we plop them in our room with a cartoon (and then have their little mini-weights ready when they want to come exercise with mommy and daddy 10 minutes later!). Some weeks it's a lot harder than others, so we punt during the week, and just try to hit it hard on the weekend, when we have each other to entertain the kids.

Thing is, almost everyone has some time to fit in exercise in some way, shape, or form -- IF that's really your priority. And it's ok if it's not; just be straight with yourself about it.

Posted by: laura33 | September 21, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Besides changing how you eat, the best way to lose weight is to lift weights. As a woman who's been overweight my entire adult life, the only thing that's worked is lifting weights or swimming. I've lost 15 pounds this year, mainly because I've made my health my number one priority. I have my husband, one of the grandmothers, or the gym daycare watch my 3-year old, leave the guilt at the door, and get my workout in. The workout gives me such a huge mental boost, that I am ALWAYS a better parent when I come back. I also made my daughter a fake set of hand weights from toilet paper tubes with construction paper circles on the end, so we work out together at home sometimes. She gets a big kick out of stretching and "lifting weights" with me. Sometimes, she'll be doing a repetitive physical movement, and I'll ask her what's she doing, and she says, "I'm exercising." : )

Posted by: gypsyrom1 | September 21, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Here's how I have tried to keep exercising with 2 kids. I work full time and so does my spouse.

Walk baby in stroller whenever possible. If weather does not cooperate, walk on treadmill in basement while baby is napping, sitting in bouncy seat watching and "talking" to me, or playing nearby. Before I had a treadmill, I used aerobics videotapes at home. Now that I have cable TV with an "on demand" feature, I can choose from many different half hour workouts without ever visiting the video store. If toddlers are around, they will want to dance along. Which is fine, just don't trip over them.

Sometimes I have to exercise at weird hours, way early in the morning or late in the evening.

And some days, the only activity I can squeeze in is a brisk 15 minute walk at lunchtime, or a few sets of situps before collapsing in bed. But even that makes me feel better.

Posted by: newengland1 | September 21, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Stroller Strides is a great way to stay in shape if you have small kids. You work out while pushing your kids in the stroller. The classes are led by an instructor and include both cardio and resistant tubing workouts. I was shocked how sore I was after the first class. I attended class through my entire 2nd pregnancy and gained half the weight as my first and lost it all in less than 6 weeks! If classes don't fit in your schedule you can always get some exercise tubes and do it on your own.

Posted by: bludevil8 | September 21, 2009 10:32 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company