Parenting comes with overwhelming responsibility and few accolades. Every day, moms make sure that their children are well-rested, fed, and getting the exercise they need. But this care for their children often comes at their own expense. As the emotional anchor of her family, a mother’s lack of self-care compromises her ability to parent with joy and confidence.
Beyond its obvious health benefits, exercise has been proven to offer a tremendous psychological boost. It really doesn’t matter what exercise routine you choose, but it does matter that you stay with it. Physician Jordan D. Metzl says that instead of prescribing a specific fitness regimen, he encourages his patients to find what works for them. “The ideal form of exercise for you is something you actually do!” he writes. So find your favorite way of working out, whether it’s a brisk walk in the park pushing a stroller or laps around the field while your kids are at soccer practice. The rewards are far-reaching and well worth the time and effort.
Here are 10 benefits of exercise that just might make you an even better mom.
- Enhance self-love. Self-love offers a powerful foundation for parenting. While often linked to practicing gratitude and mindfulness, regular exercise can also help you achieve self-love. “The more self-love you have for yourself, the better prepared you are for healthy relating,” writes psychologist Deborah Khoshaba. This applies to your parenting as well. It’s impossible to parent joyfully if you are down on yourself. Exercise and fitness counteract the barrage of messages about beauty and body image that can make moms feel less attractive and even self-hating. You don’t have to get buff or thin to appreciate your body for its strength and power. Every time you work out, you’re writing a love letter to yourself.
- Healthy role modeling. It’s one thing to tell your kids to exercise and eat well. It’s even better if you do it yourself. Demonstrating self-care through exercise sends a powerful message that you take your health seriously and that they should, too. Instill exercise habits that are healthy today, and your kids will continue them on their own tomorrow.
- Blow off steam. Moms don’t get any gold stars for patience, but we know how awful we feel when we lose our temper or get overwhelmed by parenting. Tough moments, chaos, and loss of control are to be expected when raising children. Making time to release energy and shift your focus goes a long way toward helping you calm down and get perspective. You could even invest in a punching bag and gloves – it’s a great workout and super satisfying.
- Sense of accomplishment. “It’s important to take each day one at a time and as you move through it, pat yourself on the back for small and large accomplishments,” psychoanalyst Laurie Hollman says. For moms, kids are an unreliable source of that sense of accomplishment. Everyone expects you to be a good mom, so the rewards are few and far between. Sticking to an exercise regime, on the other hand, will leaving you feeling proud of yourself. Every workout has the potential to reveal improvement and measurable milestones. Being a mom who fights for her fitness will make you feel stronger and more accomplished, even when you’ve got spit-up on your shoulder or peanut butter in your hair.
- Increase long-term strength. Adults lose between 5-7 pounds of muscle every decade after age 20, and recent research indicates that inactivity is responsible for the majority of this muscle loss. Exercise, especially strength training, increases bone mass and density, which protects against osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. The American Journal of Medicine recently reported that folks with a higher muscle-mass index live longer. So, be a strong mom, and increase the likelihood of being a strong grandmother, too. Your kids will thank you!
- Reduce anxiety and improve your mood. Exercise reduces our odds of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, research shows. Exercise and fitness also release chemicals that improve mood and sleep, and reduce anxiety. As we all know, there’s stress, and then there’s “mom stress.” As the saying goes, you’re only as happy as your most unhappy child. Exercise can counteract the unavoidable stress of parenting.
- Exercise helps your memory. New research links exercise to enhanced memory and cognitive repair. One study found that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. In fact, heart-pumping exercise “stimulates the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.” What better way to fight “mommy brain” and keep yourself sharp?
- Move outdoors for stress recovery. We moms often dash between responsibilities without spending time in nature. This treadmill of work, shopping, cleaning, cooking, and so on deprives us of the fantastic psychological benefits of the natural world. It’s been proven that natural landscapes accelerate recovery from stress. Try unplugging everyone in the family to hike in the mountains or walk on the beach. Better yet, go on your own. Exercising in nature can create positive changes in the brain that will serve you well after a hard morning with the kids.
- Increase optimism. Exercise changes our self-perceptions, providing a sense of personal mastery and positive self-regard. It also reduces negative thinking. A Harvard University study of 70,000 women reveals that an optimistic outlook improves health and well-being—and even lengthens life expectancy. So, start exercising, build that feedback loop of optimism, and be there longer for your kids!
- Avoid depression. Researchers are finding that physical activity works at least as well against mild-to-moderate depression as any other treatment. It may be an alternative to current forms of treatment or a complement to them, even in severe cases. Moreover, resistance exercise and weight training have been found to be as effective against depression as aerobic activity, according to Hara Estroff Marano. Too many moms face depression due to shifts in identity, sleep deprivation, and the demands of modern life. Exercise maybe the very thing to stave off depression and introduce joy.
Eating well, exercising, and sleep are expressions of self-worth. Give yourself the same care and love that you show your children, and find joy amidst the chaos and demands of parenthood. You deserve it!
This post is by Dr. Cesar Lara, MD. founder of Lara Weight Management centers in Florida. They provide BHRT services in their St.Petersburg Weight loss clinic, as well as in Tampa, Clearwater and Palm Harbor.