Gill Hill is a Scot who currently lives in Boise, Idaho, with her husband and two boys who, despite her best efforts, do not sound remotely Scottish. She is a part-time freelance writer and blogs at Outdoors Mama and can be found on Instagram at outdoorsmamablog. The rest of the time she can be found biking, skiing, hiking, and generally involving her kids in as much outdoors fun and nonsense as she can.

On Mondays, my to-do list is epic. I plan out my week on a Sunday night, and my three-pronged list (work, home, groceries) often fills a page. And exercise, sadly, is usually at the end of it. By Friday, I’m grasping the crumpled piece of paper, glad to have it mostly completed, but often too exhausted to contemplate squeezing in a run or workout session. Since I started working part-time, I’ve had to become more focused on the to-do list during the time that I’m with my boys, and sometimes that means finding other options to entertain them while I tick things off. If I’ve already used up screen time to get to the phone calls and paperwork, I just can’t face using more of it to allow me to exercise. It feels selfish, and while I know I need that time physically to stay healthy and emotionally to recharge, I never put it at the top of the list.

Recently, however, I’ve tried a new approach, and it’s really paying off. Now fitness and staying active aren’t just other things on the to-do list, to be completed when I get a second away from the kids. Now it’s how we spend our time together, with me focused on all of us as a family. Have you ever watched your kids move around? They’re constantly jumping, running, spinning and twirling. When I harness that energy and we all use it to bike, run laps at the park, or do jumping jacks in the garden, we all win. And the best part? The boys think it’s their choice of activity, and have no idea I’m secretly ticking another thing off the to-do list at the same time.

There are so many benefits to getting your kids outside and active. It’s obviously important for their bodies to move, not just to keep their developing muscles strong, but for many other reasons. It’s great for their coordination, of both their big muscles as they learn to run and bike, and also for their fine motor skills such as pencil and scissor grasp. It can improve their sleep, reduce anxiety, and improve their concentration at times they are required to sit still, like at school. It’s also easy in this busy world to find something for your kids to do and discover you haven’t really spent quality time with them, slowing down and getting involved in their world. When you do give them all of your attention, you can often find that whining and other negative behaviors, that are really just masks for a kid feeling a lack of connection, will reduce or even disappear.

Hopefully it’s clear now why being active with your kids outside is one of the best things you can do for them, and if you can do it while helping yourself stay fit, all the better. While I still try my best to get a couple of workouts or runs in on my own a week, here are my four tips for ticking fitness off my to-do list even on days when I don’t get time away from the kids:

 

1. Be a kid along with them.

Put on sweats or yoga pants, get outside in the yard or at the park, and play! Bonus, you get to really connect with them, as they will love that you’re so involved. At home, we jump on the trampoline, kick and throw balls, play chase. The important thing is to fully engage and commit as much as them. Leave your phone inside for thirty minutes and jump high for the ball, run fast to chase them, or help make up the games on the trampoline. Even thirty minutes of this and I can feel my heart rate increase. It fills the kids’ buckets for connection as I give them 100% of me for that time. After, they’re almost always happy to drift off and play alone, feeling fulfilled that they’ve had a good connection period with me, and I get to catch up on emails or do yard work, or if I’m feeling motivated, to do some strength exercises to boost my workout. I love to get my kids outside to play as often as possible anyway, as I’m keen to keep them active and healthy, and because I know it does great things for their brain and how they learn. I’ve noticed that if I take them outside and provide an activity, like jumping on the trampoline or kicking the ball, they may do it for a few minutes, but they can get bored quickly. If I am actively engaged in the game with them, they play it for much longer, which is just as much a benefit for their little bodies as it is for mine.

 

2. Find an outdoor activity you all enjoy

For us, this is easy, as there’s lots of outdoor activities we love to do together. Our absolute favorite is biking, but we also take them on runs (stopping to play at the park after) and hikes. A 35lb toddler on my back means I get a decent leg workout even as we hike in our local foothills. Your activity could be swimming, geocaching, playing soccer. Find the thing that connects your family and give it your all. If you are committed and enjoying yourself, the kids will pick up on that positive attitude and it’s more likely they will engage with it and enjoy it too. Concerned your kids are not going to like it? I know that feeling, sometimes it’s hard work to get my boys ready when they’re enjoying playing inside. Start with once a week, build it up as a routine so they know what to expect, and things should get easier. Check out my blog post about helping kids transition to outdoor activities for more tips.

We’ve always been an outdoor family and biking, hiking, running and exploring our local parks and greenbelt are high on our priority list. That means our boys are used to it when I suggest we head outside, and they (mostly) look forward to these trips. But I definitely encounter resistance when we try something new, and sometimes the preparation can leave me exhausted, wondering if it’s worth persuading everyone into the car and loading up everything we need. All I can say is, it is absolutely worth it! Once we’re out there, I watch everyone’s mood lighten, and each time I suggest trying that new thing again, the boys are more keen. Just as any fitness routine requires mental work on your part to push through to the benefits, you have to put some of this work in on your kids’ behalf. Do it, and you’ll reap the rewards!

 

3. Have a dance party!

I love watching my kids dance. They have zero self-consciousness, they use all of their bodies, and they have so much fun. If you’re new to this one, I recommend closing the blinds, being the only adult in the room, and committing to the mental discomfort! It gets easier, I promise. Let the kids pick three songs and then dance your heart out (or at least heart rate up). If you can, copy their moves and I guarantee you’ll get a workout in!

This is a great one at the end of the day to get some of their wiggles out before bed and I love to do it if I haven’t had any other chance to fit a workout in that day. We jump over things, wiggle our bums, shake our hands in the air, run in place as fast as we can. After three songs we are panting for breath and often fall in a giggling heap, calming our heart rate down before starting all over again.

This is also a great activity to try if you have been having a hard time with stalling at bedtime. Often, problems with bedtime routines can be a result of kids feeling a lack of connection with their parents, or because they haven’t had enough exercise in the day. This activity kicks both these problems to the curb. We dance, and they know I’m fully engaged with both of them. I let them call the shots, picking the songs and the dance moves, and they love the power reversal of getting to tell Mummy what to do. We laugh, swing each other around, fall on top of each other, and there is a lot of physical touch which kids need to feel that connection. After, tired out and on an endorphin high, we snuggle and read bedtime books, and I find both boys are out like a light.

 

4. Workout around them

This one is a little harder to do, but I use it to work on my strength and core work. When I do get a chance to workout alone I usually go for a run or do cardio, and so I’m always looking to fit strength training in at other times. I’ve starts adding these in around the boys’ play. I only really need five minutes to do any one exercise, and if I can get three or four of these sessions in through the day then I can get a lot of my strength work done. Ideally, I would do all the exercises together, but increasingly I’ve found that leaving this activity to the end of the day means I have no energy left for it. If you are more of a night owl and still have the willpower after the kids are in bed, then I’m happy for you! Natalie can do her whole workout around her kids, check out her real life work out video to see how she does it! If, like me, you’re a morning person who’s tank has run dry by 8 p.m. and you’re good for nothing but an hour of Netflix before you hit the sack, then consider this option of little and often. I’d rather get a few sets in through the day and not quite meet my target than get nothing done and feel guilty about it. I also find that if I know I only need to commit five minutes at a time, getting every set in through the day is pretty easy. As a morning person, I often front-load these in our morning play, although I do find that a session or two of them in the afternoon can perk me up if the coffee isn’t quite hitting the spot! Some of these (squats!) I prefer to do in the privacy of our home or backyard, but I sometimes do arm workouts or other exercises at the end of a run or bike ride when I let the kids play at the park. If the bike run didn’t quite get my heart running as I would like, I often squeeze some jumping jacks and high knees in around the strength exercises. The beauty of really connection with the kids is that afterwards they are content to play alone, and I find I have more time to myself than if I had spent the whole morning trying to get through the to-do list.

I hope these help! If you are new to exercising or trying to get back to working out post partum, then it is easy to see the excuses that can hold you back. Don’t let your kids be one of those. I find I’m in a much better place mentally as well as physically if I get to workout more days than not. It’s also important to me that my kids see exercise and keeping our body healthy as an integral part of daily life. By far the easiest way to keep them active is to be active along with them. It lifts my heart when one of them asks to go for a bike ride or a hike, or to watch the toddler unroll the yoga mat and tell me it’s time to do some exercise.

Have you tried working out with your kids? I’d love to hear of any tips or tricks you use to squeeze workouts in with the kids in tow. And if you have tried it and faced challenges, or if you are worried to start because you can’t see how you’ll manage, let me know in the comments. I’ll be checking in and would love to chat with you about ways to make it easier.