Getting fit while busy bringing up the kids

Brea Kunstler says exercise can be fun.

After Covid-19 lockdowns, lives across Australia have changed.

Mums (and dads) are working longer hours, many of them at home, leaving many to question when they have time for exercise.

Life is busy. It always has been.

But blurring the lines between work hours and life hours has become an even more delicate balance since Covid.

If spending more time at home, away from loved ones and friends has taught us anything, it’s that life is short. And we need to look after ourselves.

But with even less time in the day (whether that be true or perceived), how can we get our 30 mins a day of exercise in?

Hughesdale mum Brea Kunstler is as busy as they come.

She’s a physiotherapist and run coach and a research fellow at Monash University.

Brea says the key is to make the most of the time you have, not to add more tasks to your ’to do’ list.

Yarra Ranges Kids Today reporter Melissa Meehan sat down with her to discuss how we can find time to get moving.

Have you noticed a shift in peoples’ exercise habits since the pandemic?

We (researchers at BehaviourWorks Australia, Monash University) conducted a survey of over 1000 Australian adults early in the pandemic and noticed that physical activity levels weren’t hugely different to usual, we were still seeing the majority of adults not meeting the physical activity guidelines of 150-300 minutes of activities like walking, as well as two sessions of strength exercises, weekly (these recommendations differ by age).

However, when we looked a little closer, people seemed to be exercising in a different way. For example, people were doing more strength activities than usual during the early stages of the pandemic.

This could be because it was easy to do this during lockdown or while physically distancing (eg. online pilates class in your lounge room).

Many people might have been doing these classes while watching the kids and making use of the time and opportunity they suddenly had.

We have also seen many people take up activities that can be done solo and without a gym membership (handy since they have been closed so often).

We have many more recreational runners than before (’those people’ who throw on the activewear to get a quick jog in before the kids get up).

We need to take this idea into 2021 and beyond – make the most of the time and opportunities you have.

Are people finding it more difficult to find time to exercise?

Time has often been reported as a barrier to exercise.

However, I often encourage my clients to put their day on a page and see when they have at least 15 minutes to move.

Often, we can find at least 15 minutes to ourselves and, if we can’t, we can look at where we can be active WHILE doing other things.

How can they go about changing that mindset?

We need to think about time versus priority.

Often, people say they don’t have time to exercise but they are able to find two hours a day to watch TV.

So, TV watching is a higher priority than exercise in this instance.

You have the time, but you have prioritised something else. I get it! I have two suggestions for this: exercise while watching TV, or split the time.

Let’s say you have two hours to watch two episodes of your favourite show. Awesome!

Consider doing 3×12 push ups, squats and ab crunches in the ad breaks (or just during the episode if there’s not breaks).

This will take about 10 minutes in total.

Then, once they are out of the way, sit down and relax to enjoy your show.

Enjoying time to yourself watching your favourite program is important too.

Alternatively, consider watching one episode, and using the other hour to go for a walk and listen to a podcast or audiobook.

So, you are doing something you enjoy and getting some activity in too.

Buy some hand weights and exercise bands to make your home exercises that little more challenging.

Why is it so important to get that exercise in?

There are so many benefits of regular physical activity. It strengthens muscles, bones and vital organs like heart and lungs. This is important for kids to grow into healthy and strong adults, and for adults to maintain their health.

It improves balance and coordination. These skills are necessary for kids to safely participate in sport and for adults to avoid injury and falls as they age.

Maintaining a healthy weight, which is important in our increasingly obesogenic environment.

It maintains mental health by breaking up less enjoyable tasks like school work and facilitating socialising with friends (eg. online exercise challenges for teens and adults (eg. 55 squat challenge in March 2021) and family bonding (e.g. family walks after dinner).

Improve concentration during school and paid work. Enhanced sleep. It gives something fun to enjoy during a stressful time (stress and poor mental health was increasingly reported during the pandemic but these issues remain outside these times too).

You don’t even need to accumulate heaps of exercise to reap the benefits because something is literally better than nothing. We have seen people achieve significant health benefits by simply adding a short walk to their day (eg. walk to the shops instead of driving). Remember, your kids learn so much from you. If you are active, then they will see this as normal behaviour, and will be more inclined to do some exercise too.

What are your main tips on how to stay fit and healthy?

See one example above when I talk about time versus priority.

With babies, treat your day like a 24 hour cycle. Find a space in that time that you can claim for yourself.

This can be 15 minutes when the baby is sleeping, or you could be lucky enough to get a couple of hours. After I had my daughter I claimed 5am-7am as my time.

I would feed my daughter (4.30am was a common feeding time) and then escape the house.

I would go into the garage to do an online exercise class, go to my 24hr gym and go on the treadmill or do another activity, or run outside (I felt safe enough to do this).

I was lucky enough to have my husband at home during that time so he could get up to her before he would wake for work at 7am, meaning I could leave the house.

However, if you would prefer to use this time to read a book or do something else, then find ways to exercise with bubs!

Mother and baby classes are available that are run by physios that can support you to get back into exercise safely and allow you to include your child (or you can try this virtual option).

I am a physio and provide online exercise programs to mums eager to get back into exercise but want to do so safely and in a place and time that suits them.

If you have toddlers, use your environment! Local parks are your friend, and so are online kid-focussed song and dance classes on days where you can’t get out.

Do lunges as you walk around following your toddler around. Lunge as you reach down to take the rubbish out of their hand before they put it in their mouth! Climb the equipment with them. Lift them up so they can touch the monkey bars.

Do a squat, push up or burpee in between each push on the swing. Suddenly you are getting a good arm and leg workout while hanging out with your kids!

There are endless opportunities for activity in the park if you use your imagination.

If you have babies and toddlers, get the pram out and walk (or run, if you’re able).

Walk to the library or to the shops. Walk to the park. Just walk instead of drive!

The kids get to see and hear the outdoors while you get to pound the pavement.

Think about taking a hilly route for a harder workout or even stocking the pram up with groceries to make it harder to push.

With tweens and teens, it’s important to respect that your kids are starting to crave independence and have autonomy in their decision making. So ask them what they want to do.

If you get a “nothing” then try setting an example by getting active yourself or making it more appealing by including things they enjoy.

If you sit on your iPad all day, then your kids see that and think that’s normal. If they see you on your iPad for an hour, then going for a quick walk around the block before dinner, then suddenly that becomes normal.

They might then appreciate an invite to this previously exclusive walk. Also, don’t demonise screens, use them!

There are so many fun online options for kids to use to get active.

Try a scavenger hunt and make sure there are prizes that the kids actually want (i.e. they choose the prizes, like a night off doing the dishes!). Or access free exercise classes offered via council that are appropriate for teens and adults.

It’s important that you seek professional support if you haven’t exercised in a while (lots of people post-pandemic!) or are new to it.

GET THE KIDS OFF THE COUCH

What are some tips to get your kids off the couch, away from the TV and engaged in physical activity?

Listen to them, understand their interests, and get their interests involved in the activity (eg. they enjoy basketball, shoot hoops with them and make it a competition). Yes, it’s important to establish healthy behaviours early as then kids learn that exercise is a normal behaviour. In saying that, they need role models to learn this behaviour. So their parents must be active too! This doesn’t mean that you need to be at the gym at 5am every morning. Going for a walk before dinner each night is a good example of integrating regular physical activity into your day.

To contact Brea, visit her website at https://www.ownbody.com.au/ or phone 9696 2639