Exercise can have such an impact on your quality of life! Let’s break down exactly what exercise does for us.
- Promotes a Healthy Weight. This is probably one of the better known exercise benefits. Exercise adds to the “Balance” equation of the “Moderation, Variety, Balance” catch phrase that health professionals have been sharing for years. Essentially, you can help balance the calories you take in through food with exercise. We talked here about how even one Oreo’s worth of extra calories each day can lead to substantial weight gain. Exercise can help reduce the amount of extra calories you eat each day by making your body work harder and use up energy (aka: body fat).
- Improves Blood Sugar. Exercise improves your body’s insulin sensitivity, meaning your body responds more effectively to insulin. Insulin acts as a key to “unlock” your cells so that they can take up glucose, or blood sugar, for quick energy.
- Lowers Blood Pressure & Improves Lipid Panel. Exercise can do quite a number on your heart, in a great way! Aerobic exercise (think: walking, swimming, skipping, dancing, or running) makes your heart stronger, so pumping blood isn’t as taxing. A “lipid panel” is essentially your cholesterol numbers. Exercise is one of the few things that can actually raise your good cholesterol, plus it can help bring triglycerides to a more desirable range. (For info on a heart-healthy diet, check out this article and this one.)
- Increases Muscle Mass & Bone Density. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” really applies here. During weight-bearing exercise, your bones and muscles are extra stressed, and the movements can cause some breakdown in the tissues. In this case, it’s a good thing, because your muscles and bones rebuild even stronger! Weight-bearing exercises include weight training, plus aerobic exercises where you “pound the pavement” (swimming doesn’t make the cut here, the water takes away the “weight-bearing” aspect), and even yoga and tai chi.
- Elevates Energy. Ya know those days (before kids) when you would just sit on the couch all day, feeling totally sluggish? But once you got moving, you felt wide awake? Yep, that’s exercise working for you again. It helps your tissues receive oxygen and nutrients more effectively. Now that L is walking/running/stumbling all over, I can tell she has way more energy when she’s able to run around… there’s hardly any stopping her. (Personal experience: When completing my Dietetic Internship [essentially working a 40 hour week, plus grad classes], I was way more awake for my evening classes if I could squeeze in a 15 minute walk beforehand, but would nearly fall asleep if I decided to nap in my car during that time.)
- Better Mood. Exercise helps your brain produce endorphins, chemicals which make you feel more relaxed and happy. Plus, your self-esteem can get a boost, which we all know makes us feel better.
- Promotes Sleep. Regular exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep longer.
- Provides a chance to socialize with friends or bond with your little ones. Don’t think of exercise as a chore. Rather, make it one of the most anticipated parts of your day! As parents, our responsibilities at home seem never ending. Make a date with friends to walk, attend a group class, go dancing, or hike. Cherish the time you spend with the kiddos practicing for their soccer game, doing pull-ups at the playground, or while you’re pointing out the squirrels and birds while they’re in the stroller on a walk.
Tips to Get Started
We all know how great exercise is for us, but what are some doable ways to get started making exercise part of our routine?
- Start small. While many health experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week (or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity), you don’t have to start with that. Twenty to thirty minutes a day can seem daunting. Break it down into 2 fifteen-minute sessions and work your way up.
- Enlist a friend. Friends (or partners or kids) are great addition to your workout. It gives you an accountability partner. Or you and your friend or partner can take turns watching the kids while the other gets in a quality, guilt-free workout.
- Set a goal. Don’t just say, “I’m going to work out more this week.” What does that even mean? Be specific with goal setting, for example: I will exercise for 45 minutes after work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; plus walk with the baby for at least a half an hour on Saturdays.
- Pencil it in. Now that you’ve set your goal and know exactly when and for how long you’ll workout, put it in your planner and treat it like any other appointment.
- Don’t feel guilty. All too often, moms feel like they’re taking too much time for themselves if they exercise. Remember that exercise makes you the best version of yourself. You’re not only helping yourself, but setting a good example for your kids (and spouse), and ensuring that you’ll be around for many years to come.
Be sure to always talk to a doctor, physical therapist, or personal trainer before beginning an exercise routine.