Workouts for busy mothers


The jogging stroller, as much as precision scheduling and premade meals, appears to be a key tool for many parents with young kids. (Julie Francoeur/iStock)

Laura Donnelly-Smith’s morning fitness routine begins the night before. That’s when she begins the long exercise of getting herself ready to exercise.

About 7:45 p.m., Donnelly-Smith, a 35-year-old writer and editor at the Smithsonian, gets outfits and lunches ready for herself and her 20-month-old son, and packs her son’s day-care bag. She says it’s the only way to keep up her morning fitness regimen: running on three weekdays for 30 minutes, longer on the weekends.

After her 6:15 a.m. weekday runs, “I’ve got exactly 30 minutes to get myself showered, dressed and out the door to walk to the Metro by 7:30,” says Donnelly-Smith, who lives in Silver Spring and has been a runner since she was 14. Her husband feeds their son breakfast and drops him off at day care.

Washington is the second-fittest city in America, according to the American Fitness Index. It is also, if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, home to some of the busiest people around — or at least people who say they are. So how do people with hectic schedules keep themselves in shape — and even train for endurance and other competitive events? We asked parents for their secrets.

I “spend a lot less time showering, getting dressed and putting on makeup than a lot of people,” says Karina Lubell, a 33-year-old lawyer and runner who lives in the District. Lubell, who works 50 to 60 hours a week and has an 11-month-old son, manages to work out about six hours a week, mostly in the early mornings and on weekends. (She doesn’t count her daily 30-minute bicycle commute.)

Lubell and her husband, who works in finance, run with the Capital Area Runners club, sometimes with their son in a jogging stroller.

The jogging stroller, as much as precision scheduling and premade meals, appears to be a key tool for many parents with young kids. So are babysitters (sometimes to allow parents to go on a date run), memberships in gyms with child care, early-morning boot camps, home exercise equipment, Wii Fit, online classes and, perhaps most important, flexibility and an understanding spouse.

Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian, health fitness specialist and founder of Capitol Nutrition Group, says busy people who want to stay fit might need to expand their definition of exercise. Take the family on a weekend bike ride, she says. “Brainstorm project ideas with a co-worker while taking a walk,” she adds. “Be okay with letting your kids watch a little TV while you turn on a workout video.”

Being less rigid about kid time is key, says Kristin Kramer, 40, of Silver Spring. “I don’t schedule activities for the kids on Saturday mornings that would require my presence, because that’s when I run,” she explains. “I think being fit is terribly important for health and happiness, and I think it’s good that our kids see us making it a priority,” even if that means she has to hire a sitter while she exercises, says Kramer, a scientific review officer at the National Institutes of Health, whose husband is also a runner.

No matter what their schedule, many couples say a supportive partner is helpful — for couples with children, especially so. In many cases that means one person must be willing to put his or her own fitness regimen on the back burner for a while. One marathoner said she alternated training years with her husband.

Skip Daly, a 42-year-old database administrator who lives in Gaithersburg, concedes his family’s fitness routine is “somewhat one-sided.” His wife, Emer, 40, a stay-at-home mother of their four children — ages 9, 4 and 6-year-old twins — is a runner and a running coach for half marathons. That requires consistent training, which she often does when Daly comes home from work.

“She’s forever dealing with school lunches, homework, shuttling kids to/fro, handling chores,” Daly says in an e-mail. “So I completely respect her need to get out of dodge when I get home.”

Karen Kincer, president of Montgomery County Road Runner’s Club, is also a mother of four. “It helps if both parties don’t just look at exercise as a selfish pursuit,” says Kincer, 42, of Rockville. She and her husband “both appreciate the benefits that exercising brings to us not just physically but also mentally.” To achieve these goals, she says, “the Google Calendar is a lifesaver, as are running partners who aren’t afraid of a 5 a.m. start.”

Still, all of this planning can be stressful.

“While the benefits of exercise are undeniable,” says Scritchfield, “the anxiety over finding the time to fit it in to our crazy schedules may outweigh the benefits of the exercise itself.”

So if you’re aiming for a personal record in a triathlon and find yourself on Google Calendar setting up a 4 a.m. double-stroller date run so you can also make a 7 a.m. work meeting, perhaps you should think again. Or just go to sleep; after all, it’s well established that rest is a vital part of any fitness program.

More tips:

Staying fit and being busy aren’t mutually exclusive. You just need to be a little creative with your schedule and your definition of exercise.

“All movement is good for you,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian, health fitness specialist and founder of Capitol Nutrition Group. It “increases blood flow, bringing nutrients to every cell in your body, strengthening your heart, muscles and improving your cardiovascular system.”

You can get some of these benefits by just adding walking to your daily routine, she says. This can be as simple as “walking to an errand, walking to a park for lunch, walking around the house picking up messes.” Ideally, she says, you’d add resistance and strength training and flexibility, too.

Carolyn Muse Siegel, owner and lead instructor at Mommy Bootcamp in Fairfax, has some additional ideas.

1. Schedule exercise “dates” with your friends. Friends help keep you accountable in your fitness routine. And, since it’s often hard to schedule catching-up time on your already busy calendar, you can do double duty here. Skip the drinks or lunch and instead set up a tennis match or meet for a jog. You’ll burn calories and get in needed friend time.

2. Find a routine you can love. When you find a class, group or individual program that you love, exercise becomes less of an added chore and more of a pleasure that you can look forward to.

3. “Play” during family time. Family time is a great time to work exercise into a busy schedule. Hiking, biking, sledding, even just simply kicking a ball with your kids are all great ways to burn calories and have fun! Plus, the added bonus is that you’re teaching your children the importance of an active lifestyle.

4. Go to bed earlier. If you find yourself wasting away your evening hours watching television or browsing the Internet, try going to sleep earlier. The added rest could give you enough extra energy to wake up early for a workout. Because of fewer scheduling conflicts early in the morning, you are much less likely to miss your workout. Plus, morning exercise sessions get your endorphins going for increased productivity throughout the day.

5. Keep exercise clothes and a “cleanup” kit at your desk. Sometimes a lunchtime workout is all you can fit in. Be prepared for these days by having essentials at your desk to quickly clean up if a shower is not possible. Hair refresher products, deodorant, disposable body wipes and travel cosmetics make it possible to get back to work in a flash.

What’s your secret to fitting exercise into a busy routine? Tell us in the comments.

Nora Krug is a Book World editor and a MisFits columnist.
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