2020… a number that stirs up so many thoughts and feelings. It will forever be the year associated with the pandemic that rocked our world. Everyone’s lives changed. Whether our jobs were affected or not, we all had to go through a major shift and adapt to something that wasn’t our “normal”. A lot of us were laid off or furloughed, some of us shifted to working from home, and many of us were considered essential employees that continued to show up and do the job we had to do regardless of the risk.
As a mom to two toddlers (ages 3 and 5 years old) and a firefighter wife, let me be the first to say I feel you! Our children are our first priority, yet here we are trying to help them while also trying to balance work and our own health and wellness. Home-school, distance learning, hybrid learning or in-person learning, working to provide for our families, and then trying to make time for exercise, it almost seems impossible. Especially for single parents and those whose spouses are gone for 24 or more hours at a time.
I want you to know: You are not alone. According to an article from healthline.com, “Americans are reporting significant and sustained increases in symptoms of depression and anxiety related to the COVID-19 pandemic”. We are experiencing isolation like we never have in our lifetime. We are feeling unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety, and confusion. Even though exercise has demonstrated beneficial impacts on mental and physical health, we are exercising less during this pandemic. Time magazine reported that “Americans [are] more sedentary than ever—and the effects may be long-lasting”. We all know a healthy lifestyle supports our immune system so our bodies can better fight off pathogens, so how do we fit it in with everything else we have to do each day?
I believe knowledge is a key motivator. Once we know the why, we’ll be that much more motivated to follow through and make something a new habit or part of our routine. So let’s talk about a few of the specific benefits of exercise:
- It increases the flow of oxygen to your brain which leads to clarity. This increase in oxygen also leads to higher energy levels.
- It releases endorphins which are neurotransmitters that increase your pain tolerance and feelings of happiness. It also slows down the release of stress hormones.
- It positively affects insulin sensitivity, thyroid hormone function which helps improve your metabolism, testosterone in men, and progesterone in women which helps to balance out estrogen levels.
- It helps improve relaxation and sleep quality.
- It supports your immune system by helping to “flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways”, helps your body’s immune system cells that fight disease circulate faster, helps prevent bacterial growth and fights off infection via the temporary rise in body temperature much like a fever does.
The driving point: Exercise is important for both mental and physical health. It shifts your mindset, it preps your body for a productive day, and it fortifies your immune system. What an incredible thing exercise is. Our bodies were made to move. They want to move. So, let’s give ourselves that gift!
I call my workouts my “sweat therapy”. To quote one of my long-time mentors Chalene Johnson, “Only exercise on the days you want to improve your mood”. Did you know there’s no wrong time to workout? Did you also know there’s no wrong way to workout? Yes! Check this out: The best time of day to workout is the time that you can commit to following through and actually getting it done. The best way to workout is the way that you can really get it done. It’s that simple. If you only have 20 minutes, great! That’s 20 minutes of you improving your health! If you are only able to walk, then walk!
Did you know walking is the number one exercise you can do for yourself? It’s aerobic (using oxygen) which improves your heart health and increases your lung capacity, it decreases your risk of diabetes/dementia/cancer/stroke, it lowers sugar cravings, and here’s the kicker: it boosts your immunity! Here’s a great way to easily include walking into your routine- do it in the morning before your day starts. Wake up 20 minutes earlier, get dressed, and go for a walk. My boys and I do this almost every morning before school or our weekend starts and it’s part of our routine. They ride their bikes and I walk behind them. Not only is it great for our health, but we are also spending quality time together, getting lots of fresh air, and increasing our Vitamin D levels by being in the sunlight.
Determine the best time of day for YOU to workout and then choose what workout you will do. Be specific so there’s no talking yourself out of it. Set your workout clothes out the night before so they are ready to put on. Know what your kids will be doing; set them up with an activity if they aren’t quite old enough to do the workout you have planned. Maybe you turn on one of our On-Demand classes and do 30 minutes of it while your kids play with legos or are eating breakfast. This is part of balancing it all with your kids.
Make it a Routine
The number one way to create a sense of balance is to have routines in place. Routines will help exercise become a healthy habit that you not only do, but look forward to each day. For example, on the days that I’m not at the gym, I plan my workout during my three year old’s nap time. It’s a non-negotiable for me as I need it for my mental health. This is separate from our morning bike ride/walk time. We THRIVE on routines. Our children thrive on routines.
Can you think of a couple routines you could put into place each day to feel less stressed, help your kids feel secure, and to be able to fit in exercise? Ask for your kids’ input too. What would they like to do with you? I bet once you figure out an activity to do together as a family, everyone will be feeling less overwhelmed and more balanced. After all, we’ll never get this time back with our family. Let’s spend it feeling that joy from quality time and exercise!
Michelle Lasiter, B.S. Biochemistry and Cell Biology (UCSD) , M.S. Exercise & Wellness (ASU) , and Master Trainer since 2014, is an Arizona based fitness professional who has been teaching group fitness classes since early 2008. Michelle is the co-creator of two signature formats for Mountainside Fitness: Glutes, Cardio, Core and Power Kick. Being a Firefighter wife and mom of two young boys ages 3 and 5 years old has no shortage of stress and crazy times, so fitness is her sweat therapy. You can join Michelle for her classes at the Gilbert and Queen Creek Mountainside Fitness clubs on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.