Breaking News: Parents of Young Kids Often Less Fit

Friday, April 15, 2011 at 07:06 AM

 

A news story on boston.com caught my eye this week.  The headline read, “Parents of tots often less fit, study says.”  Tots.  Hmmmmm.  I thought.  That means really little kids.  Tots are toddlers, right.  Or as my daughter used to say, “Togglers.”  Like under the age of 3.  Wrong.  The study was looking at parents of children aged 5 and under.  Oh.  I have a 5-year-old.  Maybe I am a parent that this study was targeting.  Gulp.

Now, I had to read this study closely.

It said, “A study found that mothers of young children were heavier and ate more calories, sugary drinks, and fatty foods than childless women. Parents in the study were less active than their peers without children.”

Oh boy.  I am a mom of one child who is age 5 (and another child who is 7).  Am I less fit than my peers without children?

Well, let’s break this down.  There are two parts to this, right? 

  1. Deciding what I am going to eat
  2. Determining how active I am able to be given the demands of parenthood

I will tell you that since having children, I have actually improved on Number 1, but decreased the time I can spend on the second.

In my opinion, as parents, we have more control over the first part of this equation.  We can choose to eat more calories, splurge on sugary drinks and fatty foods and find ourselves fatter than our peers without children.  Or, we can watch portion sizes, eat nutritiously, choose high NuVal  scores.  For me, it’s critical.  It’s something that I can control in a life where frankly I often have so little control.

The second part of this equation is so, so much harder.  Let’s face it.  B.C. (Before Children), you could meet your spouse after work at the gym and indulge in a 90-minute workout.  You could go running together on the weekends.  Now that is so not happening.   Try as you might, you cannot make more hours in the day.   Any parent I know who keeps up an exercise routine has to squeeze it in early (for me the wake up call comes at 4:30 am) and it is brutal.  And waking up that early means you have to be in bed, well, early.  But parenthood means that you are up late doing laundry, dishes, making lunches, paying bills, and doing the work you couldn’t finish at work, etc.  Throw in one family illness, a child’s bad dream in the middle of the night, or just pure exhaustion, and guess what, you miss your workout.  It’s tough.

But, it can be done. 

My advice?  Find what works for you at your particular stage of parenthood and be realistic.  For example, when my kids were in their first year of life, I didn’t do the early morning gym routine.  I needed sleep!  Instead, my husband and I took long walks with our baby in the stroller.  And when our second child came along, we got a double stroller, and took longer walks.  We got baby seats for our bikes and pedaled on the bike path.  It wasn’t a 60-minute killer cardio kick-boxing class, but it was exercise.

Once you’re ready to start a gym routine, find a workout buddy.  It’s hard to turn over and go back to sleep if you know someone is going to be waiting for you in your driveway.  Or a group of workout buddies.  My early-morning gym group gets me out of bed.  They rock.  If you have the flexibilty to work out later in the morning, find a gym or Y with a good babysitting program.  Or if lack of time is your issue, maybe it’s time to find a running buddy in your neighborhood.  Why spend time driving back and forth to the gym (at least in the good weather months) when you can run right out your front door?

You know, last year, I sat down to watch the series premiere of Parenthood.  I was pretty excited about it because I am a huge Peter Krause fan.  Six Feet Under is one of my top five all time favorite television series.  So, as I say, I sat down to watch this brand new series and Peter’s character (Adam Braverman) opens up his front door to go out for a run.  I was so excited when I saw this because in Six Feet Under, Peter’s character (Nate) ran all the time.  But now, Peter’s character is Adam Braverman, father of two children, and he can barely make it down the street because he is in such bad shape.  And before he knows it, everyone in his family is calling him on his cell phone.  He just can’t get out for a run.  Parenthood, indeed!

Am I less fit than my peers who do not have kids?  I don’t actually have too many peers that don’t have kids, so I don’t know the answer to that question.  Am I less fit than I was before I had kids?  Well, I can tell you this.  I am at a size, weight, and fitness level that I did not think was attainable as a working mom of two kids.  So, I’m pretty happy about that!

Question of the Day?

If you are a parent – how has parenthood affected your nutrition and fitness?

If you are not a parent – do you fear that becoming a parent will have a negative effect on your fitness level?

Posted by: Melissa 3 comments

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3 Comments on “Breaking News: Parents of Young Kids Often Less Fit”

  1. #1 Andrea Samson
    on Apr 15th, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Melissa,

    I whole-heartedly agree with everything you had to say in this post! While eating healthfully (enjoying nutrient-rich foods most often, watching portion sizes, indulging in moderation…) has not changed much since having a baby, I have to say – the time I have to prepare meals has! I guess this is where moms would struggle most, and perhaps rely on takeout and more processed (read: typically higher sugar, fat, sodium) foods more often than their childless peers. But this is where creativity, and a little help from the NuVal System, comes in!

    All you really need to do to overcome this is shop for quick-cooking nutritious foods using the NuVal System (ie: boil-in-a-bag brown rice, frozen veggies without added sauces, eggs, etc.), focus on easy recipes (one dish meals, crock pot recipes…) and you can enjoy tasty, nutritious meals FAST! Is it ok to order out every now and again? Absolutely! I just wouldn’t recommend it every day of the week.

    As for exercising, yes… You have to be creative. We have an exercise bike, Pilates DVDs and a great street for family walks! Almost every night after dinner (thank goodness warmer weather is finally here) you’ll see us walking, walking, walking. It might not be as fabulous as going to the gym each night, or being able to kayak as often as I once could, but it’s important to remember – something is ALWAYS better than nothing!

    With the importance of our own health in sight, it is possible to be a healthy, working mother… Together we can change the results of this study… one mom at a time!!

  2. #2 Doreen
    on Apr 15th, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    I also agree with you Melissa. You have to make the time to work out and I feel the older you get the more you have to clean up your diet. I wonder if the stress of raising kids in this day and age has moms of -5 age children “less fit”.

  3. #3 Kim Piro
    on Apr 15th, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Good nutrition and exercise take dedication, organization and will power to say no to certain foods and yes to breaking that sweat. I was not any of these things when I was a new mother. I was exhausted, overwhelmed and nervous. But that didn’t last forever and we need to realize we can start learning good habits at any age or size. I look at it as I want to be around for as long as I can to see my kids and future grandkids grow up…..so when I’m making smart food choices or breaking that sweat…..I’m always thinking of the extra days I’m giving myself to spend with my family in my later years.

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