On Exercise (Why I Avoid the E-Word)

As a stay-at-home mom, I find getting exercise to be really, really hard. I have two strikes against me: one is of course the intense time committment of taking care of my 13-month-old. The other is the fact that I actually hate most forms of exercise.

Woman dancing by the ocean at sunset

As a child I often preferred curling up with a book to running around. Eventually as an adult I discovered that while I still hated anything I thought of as “exercise” I still loved some activities that included vigorous movement, like dance. And I felt better when I did them.

Back in 2004, I wrote this: “Dance is a way of connecting my body with my heart and mind and soul, a way of catching glimmer after glimmer of ecstasy and bringing that intensity and shimmer into the parts of my life that often feel mundane. When I dance a lot, an ordinary moment of walking across a room can suddenly feel like dance too, the fall of my feet and the shift of my hips becoming a melody, a poem, a moment of perfect connection in the now.”

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Hard to believe how much I’ve been avoiding it! I had some good reasons to be less active at first. Halfway through my pregnancy I ended up needing to restrict myself to gentle water aerobics and walking. Just as I was recovering from the birth itself, I fractured a bone in my foot and had to spend months staying off it as much as I could. When I did move around, I had to use a walking boot that threw off my alignment and messed up my lower back. All the extreme sleep deprivation of this past year didn’t help, either.

By the time I was body-whole again, I was more than a bit out of shape, and what’s far worse for me, out of the habit of moving. I am definitely in touch with my body – childbirth, nursing, and roughhousing and cuddling a toddler will do that for you – but my body has a lot of inertia and weird aches and pains.

I’m doing better now as Little A gets more active himself and is finally sleeping. I do tons of walking and toddler-chasing. But I know I need both more stretching and more cardiovascular, well, exercise. Yet I’ve been finding it hard to dance. Little A and I bop around the room a bit, but that’s about it most days.

I say I don’t have time, but if one of my time management coaching clients said that I would totally call them on it. The real question is what’s in the way of making it a priority? What’s really true is that it takes a lot of energy to push through the dense inertia I’ve developed. Pushing through the inertia is an unpleasant feeling that I want to avoid.

While I have every capability of dancing at home either with Little A’s company or on my own while he’s asleep or being watched by his dad, I don’t much. When I do, I play music and move a bit and just feel… heavy-limbed. Awkward. Clumsy. Lethargic.

I notice the still-present baby weight, and feel self-conscious about the current shape of my stomach. I notice the back and shoulder strain from bad baby-wrangling ergonomics. My body is different, and my heart isn’t aligning with my actual body quite right. I try to gently push through the feeling by dancing anyway, but it doesn’t go away. I am hesitant to push too hard. I don’t want to make dance feel like work the way I’ve always felt about other things I’ve labeled exercise. I guess showing up and noticing resistance are good first steps.

I took a Nia class on Saturday morning. I enjoyed it a lot, but I think my back wasn’t up to such an abrupt upswing in activity. Ultimately I need to regularly dance in a group environment again to feel motivated, but I think that first I need to do some gentle yoga or something. Now that we are all getting more sleep, I will try again to take a weekend class when my husband’s not at work, or I can look again at childcare possibilities at some of the gyms with dance classes.

Whatever it takes, it’s time to make it happen. I hesitate to label some of the previous obstacles as excuses exactly, since I couldn’t help the physical challenges or the extreme sleep deprivation, but at this point, it’s time to forge through anything else that comes up and make healthful movement a priority. (Note, I’m still trying to avoid the e-word. My subconscious is so much happier calling it anything else.)

Here’s what some of my friends and readers suggested to fellow parents with small children who want to spend more time moving:

  • Get a bike-pulling kid carrier or other solution for toting your child along on bike rides.
  • Go stroller-jogging.
  • Get a good carrier and go on family hikes.
  • Use your kid as a free-weight and develop an individualized strength-building routine.
  • Join a sports team or get a workout partner – have someone to hold you accountable for exercising.
  • Wear your baby.
  • Utilize childcare at gyms.
  • Check out mom and me classes .

How do you stay moving as a busy parent?

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