Tanya: What are potential barriers to parents exercising?
Mike:There is no doubt that the rising cost of living (especially when talking about family living) has had an impact on gym memberships and the personal training industry so money is one. And often for new parents, lack of time, is another. Fitness education - or lack thereof, is a potential stumbling block as well. Some people think that going to the gym for an hour every day is the be-all and end-all but, even though it might sound as if I’m doing myself out a job by saying this, it’s not. Don’t get me wrong gyms are great and have their place but if you do a workout and then spend the rest of your day watching TV with kids or doing very little then it can be counterproductive. Finally, not understanding the basics when it comes to burning energy can be a problem. Mums and dads with good intentions might opt to get out there and do something but it might not yield the results they think it should. For example, exercise machines like recumbent (sit down) bikes have relatively low calorie expenditures, so small that you’d be better off, in terms of the number of calories burnt, to go home and give the house a good vacuum instead!
Tanya: So, housework can be a good work out?
Mike:Absolutely! People should not underestimate how many calories doing the housework - with a little gusto, can burn off. The good news is that it doesn’t cost anything and it’s easy to incorporate into family living! And it’s not just chores like vacuuming but gardening, washing the dishes, mowing the lawns, and cleaning off the driveway. I should add that housework is not just the domain of women, dads, particularly in the early days of children being born, can get stuck in and reap fitness benefits too. It’s almost like a sneaky way of exercising as generally household chores are essential - so why not just get stuck in?
Tanya: What, in your opinion, is the secret to parents staying fit?
Mike: Being active every day in some way is the key to fitness success for anyone - regardless of age or family situation. But for busy parents it’s really important to find out what activities you enjoy and then make them part of your daily routine. It sounds a bit simplistic but small sustainable amounts of activity that are habit forming is vital - even as little as five or ten minutes of exercise each day.
So where do gyms and personal trainers like you fit in?
I think we’re here for inspiration and motivation more than anything. A qualified trainer will be able to help you reach your fitness goals in a safe, non-judgemental environment. Some trainers and gyms offer child care facilities as well. Participating in group training sessions is also a great way for parents to socialise and bond with other people while doing something positive for their own health and wellbeing.
What’s your advice to mums and dads on getting fit after having children?
For mums, the fitter women are prior to a birth generally the easier it will be to resume physical activity. But generally I advise new mothers to take it easy for the first three months after giving birth. Avoid exercises like lunges – where there is a greater range of movement and exercise that puts pressure on the pelvic region in general. Pilates - which focuses on strengthen the core muscles is an ideal postnatal activity.
Walking with a pram is a great way to be active and it can be done every day and for dads it is a good way to bond with children – particularly in the early days when their role is often less defined than a mothers’. When it comes to general fitness advice I often draw up routines for clients that use their own body weight for resistance, activities like sit ups, pull ups, planking and assisted squats are good examples. Fitness aids like TRX Suspension Trainers or simple hand weights are also useful and cost effective ways of working out anywhere.
Tanya: How important is having active parents for children?
Mike:It’s vital. Once kids get a bit older it’s important that parents find ways to be active with them. As a dad I make a commitment to go out at least one day every week to kick a footy around the park with my son – this is not only a good way to be active but, without sounding over the top, it sets a good example. Too often I see and hear of parents that want their kids to be healthy and active so they spend a lot of their “free” time ferrying children from one sport to the next and then sit around for hours watching their child/ren do that sport. This situation is a bit of a catch-22. It’s great to encourage kids to participate in sports but if mum and dad aren’t good role models then all the effort might not be worth it. Parents need to find ways to get involved - like taking on some coaching duties or just helping out at training - just not sitting still on the sideline! Getting out and active in the community is actually a really strong motivator for fitness as people rely on you and you don’t want to let them down - it’s just a matter of finding an activity that, as a parent, you enjoy doing alongside your child.
Mike McAndrews is a personal trainer with more than 20 years’ experience. He runs a successful business in the Southern suburbs of Sydney and is a father of two.