Last March I attended (not by choice) the Expectant Fathers class at Prentice Hospital. During these 2 ½ hours, 15–20 fathers-to-be sat around two long tables and listened as the presenter, a pediatrician and father of two, delivered the non-edited version of how life was about to change. It was funny at times. Scary at others. Eye-opening for sure.
During one part of the session, we were presented with this question: “What are you most afraid of about becoming a father?” I could have scripted some of the responses:
“I don’t know if I’m going to have enough money to support a child.”
“I’m worried I won’t see my friends as much.”
“I’ve never changed a diaper.”
“I’m scared I won’t get enough sleep.”
But then one of the soon-to-be dads across the table offered this:
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to go to the gym as much.”
I can’t remember if anyone laughed out loud, but I know I chuckled to myself. With all the other significant life changes that were about to smack each one of us in the face, pumping iron and getting a good sweat were at the top of his mind? Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of being active—I was once a personal trainer and I’ve spent thousands of hours in gyms over the last 20 years—but I thought that I’d be just fine if my activity level dipped a little bit once baby arrived.
Yet now a little more than a year into fatherhood, and understanding how woefully unprepared I am for my first marathon six months from now, I realize how wrong I was. Even if you don't have the time to get to the gym or go for a run as often as you'd like, it's crucial to stay moving and take care of your physical health as this can improve your mood, your quality of sleep, your energy level, and your ability to keep up with your increasingly mobile little one(s).
For you parents who have lost some/most/all the “me-time” you once enjoyed, here are some ways to stay active (or get moving again), while keeping the kids involved:
Park the stroller. Carrying your child obviously won’t work in all situations (your child doesn’t want to be picked up, you can no longer lift your child, you can lift your child but you’re just too damn tired and need a break). But if you want to give your arms, legs and back a nice workout, try leaving the stroller in the closet or trunk of your car when you’re out and about.
Sign up for a class that gets you and your child moving. Try parent-child swimming, mommy/baby yoga, stroller fitness programs, etc. Enjoy the physical benefits and the bonding experience.
Look for stroller-friendly races. These races can be difficult to find–and tough on kids if they’re strapped in for too long or if it’s not an ideal temperature—but they’re out there if you look. My wife and I saw a handful of children getting pushed in strollers when we completed the United Run for the Zoo 10K at Lincoln Park Zoo earlier this month.
Turn off the TV. When your child isn’t planted in front of the television, he or she likely will be moving around. That means you probably will be, too.
Go to the playground. The Chicago Park District lists 518 facilities around the city, so there is no shortage of playground options where you can push your child in a swing (work those arms, shoulders and back), play tag with your little one (there’s your cardio) and climb the steps (leg day) to the top of the slide.
Find gyms with childcare services. As fun as it can be to connect with your little one while getting some exercise, sometimes you just need an hour alone at the gym without being attached to a stroller or baby carrier. In those cases, if you can’t line up a babysitter, there are gyms around the city with onsite childcare services. This will allow your little one to play in a supervised environment while you get in a much-needed workout. Do your research first to learn about these locations’ hours of operation and fees. You also want to find out the staff’s qualifications and how they deal with dirty diapers and toddler meltdowns.