Do New Parents Exercise?

Lisa Belkin’s Motherlode blog over at the New York Times covered an interesting topic this week: whether having young children corresponds with an increase in unhealthy behaviors. She highlights a study from Pediatrics finding that moms (the majority of whose children were less than 1 year old) move less and drink more sugary drinks than non-parents. It is a finding that seems to fit into our larger cultural story of mothers putting everyone else’s needs first, perhaps in order to avoid the guilt the Today Show (citing BabyCenter) claimed 94% of us feel. As Lisa writes, “let’s face it — I really never got back to my pre-pregnancy shape after my kids were born. … Do you exercise like you did before your kids were born? When do you find the time?”

I was happy to see that many of the commenters did, in fact, exercise regularly. Personally, I’ve always found that exercise is a great way to get some alone time, think things through and, of course, lose the baby weight. Indeed, I’ve probably been more dedicated about it with a newborn than at other times. I ran the Big Sur marathon last year, when Sam was 7 months old, something I am not remotely in shape to do now.

But a close look at the Pediatrics study shows more, I think, a demographic split between New York Times blog readers and people enrolled in this study. The Minneapolis study tracked junior and senior high school students for 10 years. But that also means that the average mother in this study is 25 years old. The low exercise findings hold when you keep socio-economic status constant. But still, having a child in your early 20s is generally going to be more stressful and involve fewer resources than would happen a few years later. I would imagine that some of the negative health behaviors are simply picking up on that.



14 Responses to Do New Parents Exercise?


  1. Cara Marcano says:

    I find that when the kid is still getting up in the night or three times and you are breastfeeding and you have other children and you work 35 hours a week or more it is nearly impossible to fit exercise in without kids unless you take it out of the workday… IF anyone else sees differently I’d love to know how they do it. I would love to know and see it.

    Also someone in their mid 20s gets their body back after baby without exercise.. this is a big difference between having kids in your early 30s and in your early 20s
    I think it is important to note that until the kid is sleeping through the night and breastfeeding is not a priority..(most 30 something high achiever moms try to breastfeed to one year or at least six months and that means exclusive breastfeeding) … a regular workout is going to come at the cost of either time with kids (you put them in front of the tv at night while you work out) or shortening your work day to say 6 hours or 7 and then working out that other hour…. or your husband always taking mor ethan one child every night for a set time and I would love to hear of women whose husbands do this but I do not know of any
    this gets to back to how many hours you define as full-time… etc but if a mother is working more than 30 hours and spends time with her kids say after 6 pm. until bedtime and is breastfeeding and sleeping 7 or 8 hours a night… it is pretty hard to fit in a 1 hour or even a half-h our run.. it is easier to walk 30 minutes with your kid but this is not the same at all..i would be more than happy to log my time or see someone else in my situation who is doing it… the only way I find to get my weight down after baby is food control.. not exercise… at least until the kids are older… I do exercise but when I do it i have to take it out of the workday.. If you have more than one kid and you work full time it is even harder b/c now you have to justify time away from both kids and you ar already trying to fit time in for each one individually and both together

  2. Cara Marcano says:

    Also most of the women on that post who say they do it have only one child. It is more work when there are 2 children. I would take an hour out of my night to workout and work an 8 hour day with one child but with two children I try to get alone time with each child every day and that means not too much free time between 6 and 10 p.m.
    also i am not that comfortable putting my kid in daycare or other care all day like the baby with grandma and then working out at night while they are in front of the tv.. i’d feel better working 6.5 hours a day and then working out and showering the other hour. if you have a job whre you can not shower all day for days on end (and you re ok with this ok) but I am not ok with not showering more th an one day and I meet with clients so Ihave to shower at least like 3 or 4 times a week! You should survey moms who need to work more than 30 hours a week with more than 1 kid to do a time log to see wher ethey can exercise ..

    • @Cara- the whole message of 168 Hours is that you don’t have to do something every single day, you have to look at the whole of 168 Hours. What worked for me is taking time 2-3 workdays per week for a workout, and then twice on weekends. On weekends, parents can trade off. Hitting twice during the workweek doesn’t involve taking that much time out of work if you don’t want to.

  3. Leah says:

    My baby IS my exercise. I spend so much time during the day walking her, bouncing her, playing with her, dancing with her, etc. Other than all that though, I don’t exercise. Sure, I might have the time, but I choose to spend it on other things. Still, I’ve lost all the baby weight and am down to a slim trim 116– all the while eating copious amounts of chocolate. :)

  4. Denise R says:

    I am no longer a new mom, but when I was, I realized that even a little exercise went a long way. When I told myself I would workout 2-3X a week, I ended up always saying, “I can do it tomorrow.” I also noticed that on the days I did work out, I was much more productive. I figured a little every day was better than pushing it off, so when my husband got up at 5am to go to the gym, I got up too. I knew that my son was often getting up at 5:30, so I had to get the workout in or lose it for the day. (I worked out at home before children too.) As a person who had children in my late 30′s & early 40′s I knew the exercise was important.

    When my second child was born I still fit the workouts in during the early morning hours. I have never exercised during what one would consider ‘work hours’. I didn’t put them in front of the TV to exercise, nor did I have anyone to watch them. For a few months my younger son would get up while I was still working out and he would join me, with his version of push-ups, yoga etc. I also instilled that it was important that I finish, “so I could be a better Mommy” and he would often go play quietly for the time I had left.
    As I prepare myself to go back to work in the Fall I now get up earlier to fit my workout in.
    There are many workouts you can do in 20 or 30 minutes that tone the whole body. I also save my favorite current book to read only on the treadmill.

    • @Denise – I used to do a version of this favorite book concept with watching Oprah — I could watch it on the treadmill. It was a great way to compel myself to go for 50 minutes or so if I was enjoying it (I liked makeovers, interior design, weight loss and decluttering episodes. Celebrity interviews did not inspire me to keep going). Now, I really prefer to run outside, and invested in some gear to make that more doable in winter. We will be moving to a house in a few months and getting a treadmill, so maybe I’ll find a new show to watch…

  5. Maggie ferry says:

    I managed to work my child into the exercise by using a jogging stroller and doing the wii fit and yoga videos with him. My son actually tries to do the yoga poses with me. This was the only way to fit it in for me. Not as relaxing but kept the weight off for me.

    • @Maggie – I use the jog stroller in a pinch. I prefer to do my workouts by myself (the whole me time bit) but if that isn’t going to work I can load the kids in the double, jog down to a playground about a mile away and then jog back. It’s only 2 miles total, but on the other hand, pushing 60+ lbs of kids plus a stroller… whoa. I figure it’s better than nothing and it’s an hour or so on weekends that the kids aren’t whining for Dora.

  6. Emily says:

    I’ve kind of been in all types of situations. When I had just one child, I used to exercise frequently. I swam while pregnant with her, and then we used to put her in the stroller and go for a walk as a family (dog included, who, sadly is no longer with us).

    After my 2nd child was born (and my oldest was 3), I stayed home for about 18 months, and I used to get in my exercise by just putting the kids in the double stroller in the mornings and taking them for a 30 minute walk or so (and with 2 in that stroller – a sit and stand – believe me, pushing them was a workout)!

    Then I went back to work as a full-time working mom of 2 kids under 5 years old. For about the first year or so, I totally let all of it go. I didn’t really do any type of exercise. I kind of had the attitude that “I don’t have time to exercise anymore”, but really, I just wasn’t making it a priority (thankfully I realized that after reading your book Laura). I started slowly getting back into exercising regularly at the beginning of this year. I’m not gonna pretend it isn’t hard and I don’t constantly struggle with thinking that I really don’t have time to do it. However, I’m really committed to sticking to it and making it a priority because I’ll be better off and healthier in the long run, and really, regular exercise was always a part of my life, so why should it not be now, just because I have kids? I feel like it is good for my kids to see me taking care of myself too, not just them. I want them to grow up knowing that physical fitness and exercise are just part of life. So, as a busy, full-time working mom of 2 young kids, it is a struggle to find the time, and I may not always be as good about it as I should, but I am prioritizing exercise and really working hard at committing to stick with it again.

    • @ Emily- glad I could be helpful with clarifying things for you. Other people have found the constant exercising references in 168 Hours annoying! (see the Wired GeekDad review). But yes, I think it’s important for kids to see their parents exercising and making their health a priority, and hopefully doing active things as a family as well.

  7. Anna says:

    @ Cara- thank you for posting your comment. I am in the same boat–working “40″ hours per week (from home) with a 2-year-old and 3-month-old, exclusively breastfeeding, and trying to be as creative as possible to work in my exercise (running on the treadmill with the baby in a pack-n-play while the older child naps–since of course they never nap at the same time, going out for a run/walk with the double jogging stroller, etc.). The hard part is that I cannot fit in more than 50 minutes max of exercise, either because the baby needs to nurse, the toddler wakes up, or I have urgent emails to attend to for work. This time DOES come out of my workday, as you mentioned, and I would venture to guess that I already work only 6-7 hours a day rather than the 8 I should be working (my defense being that I get twice as much done in an hour as some of my co-workers do). I have two real problems here: 1, I would prefer to exercise/run for at least an hour at a time (such as in training for a half- or full marathon), and the short amount of time I can fit in around the kids and my work schedule does not give me a “good enough” workout (I am in relatively good shape already but still have 15lbs of baby weight to lose). And 2, everything else not related to kids, work and exercise suffers–the laundry, the cleaning, the cooking, etc. My house is a disaster and we eat out all the time, but I’m trying to learn to live with it since exercise is a priority for me…I just don’t know how to make room for any MORE exercise (longer sessions and more days per week). Maybe it will come with time…

  8. Anna says:

    I realized after reading my post that it sounds like I work out A LOT, but right now it’s only about 3 times a week for an average of 30 minutes, which is just not enough for my desired level of fitness. As Cara mentioned, I also have to put my toddler in front of the tv a lot of times to accomplish this. I am toying around with the idea of getting up very early (5am) to work out with my husband before he leaves for work (he is not currently working out at all). I am NOT a morning person, but I just don’t have anywhere else to pull the time from (I sleep 8-9 hours a night, so it will probably need to come from there…)

  9. If you ask me, I’d still be exercising even if I become a parent. A day is not complete without it. I would also be bringing my kids with me for a jog or too. If they enjoy it, great. If they do not, that’s not my child. LOL no, they can do whatever the hell they want.