10 Tips for Busy Parents Who Want to Get Fit

An array of healthy food, including vegetables, fruits and fish

Let’s face it: Parents are busy. Crazy busy.

Whether you’re up all night with a newborn, chasing a toddler around or shuttling everyone to their various activities, it can be challenging to find time to focus on your own self-care. Who has time to cook healthy food or make it to the gym when there’s just so much to take care of every day?

But taking care of yourself doesn’t have to mean dropping the other important things you do every day. Here are 10 tips to get you into healthy habits even when you’re super stressed and pressed for time.

1. Start Slow

Making too many big changes at once can be daunting. Most of us want it all, and we want it now. But setting the bar too high from the beginning is a setup for failure. You end up getting frustrated and giving up because it’s just not possible.

Start with one small goal, and work on making it a regular habit. When you’re successfully in the groove, then move on to the next goal and repeat the process.

2. Schedule It

If you don’t make healthy habits a priority, chances are they won’t happen. With so much on your daily to-do list, new activities end up getting put on the back burner.

You have to plan time into your schedule. Literally write it on the calendar in specific time slots. You will probably need to eliminate some things, delegate others, say “no" or hire out some of your regular activities to make time for yourself, but this step is crucial to getting it done.

A runner pushing a stroller through the snow

3. Meal Prep on Weekends

Planning, shopping for and preparing food over the weekend is a smart strategy to eating healthy throughout the week. If you come home from famished after work or your kid’s soccer practice, it’s all too tempting to hit the drive-thru or order pizza.

Make a couple of recipes that can quickly be heated up and repurposed throughout the week, like a big pot of chili or a whole roasted chicken. Also plan a couple of super easy options—meals that take almost zero time to put together—like beans with rice and veggies. Then keep the ingredients stocked in your kitchen.

It’s also a good idea to have lots of fresh fruits and veggies on hand that you can grab on the go or make into a quick salad.

4. Eat a Good Breakfast

The old adage is true: Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. If your idea of breakfast is coffee and a sugary treat, you’ll get that initial energy jolt, but you’ll also get the inevitable crash when it wears off. The crash leaves you tired and sets you up for big cravings (and consuming extra calories) all day.

Start your day with protein, like eggs or meat, with a serving of fiber, like fresh fruit, and you’ll stay full and satisfied much longer. Don’t have time to cook a full breakfast? A fruit smoothie with protein powder is a great on-the-go option.

5. Eat Protein With Every Meal

If you’re often hungry between meals, a lack of protein is a common culprit. Protein takes longer to digest, so you feel full for longer, which reduces cravings for potentially unhealthy snacks. The reverse is true for carbohydrates, like white rice, bread or pasta, which digest more quickly.

If you want to lose weight, especially around your belly area, consider replacing some of your carbohydrate servings with a larger portion of protein. A good rule of thumb is to eat at least a palm-sized serving with every meal.

6. Make Exercise Fun

If you don’t enjoy it, it’s not sustainable. That goes for both food and exercise.

The good news is there are so many exercise options out there that can be really fun. It’s totally not necessary to go to the gym if that’s not your thing. You can get a good workout running, taking long walks, hiking, biking with your family or going to the playground and doing everything your kids do. Jump rope, try Zumba or ballroom dancing or take a yoga class.

Exercise doesn’t have to be something you dread! You just have to move your body and get your heart rate up.

7. Do Mini Workouts

If you struggle to fit in 30 minutes of exercise at once, try breaking your exercise sessions up into 10 minute increments three times a day instead. Do some yoga first thing in the morning, take a walk on your lunch break or jog around the field during baseball practice. You’ll get the same calorie-burning cardiovascular benefits without having to block off big chunks of time.

A group of runners works out together

8. Get Your Sleep

The amount of sleep you get at night can have a direct effect on how many calories you consume during the day. First of all, lack of sleep equals a need for energy. Many parents don’t have time to rest, so the solution is to grab a sugary, caffeinated drink or a not-so-healthy snack to get a quick boost.

In addition, hormones that regulate appetite, metabolism and calorie burning balance themselves at night while you sleep. Sleep deprivation results in more feelings of hunger the next day and a general slow-down in metabolism, which leads to weight gain. Not to mention you're so tired at the end of the day, you can barely get home for dinner, let alone make a trip to the gym.

9. Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water helps boost your metabolism and cleanse your body of waste. It also helps your body retain less water overall, leading you to drop those extra pounds of water weight. Being hydrated also helps you avoid taking in extra calories from sugary beverages.

And water is just plain good for you. You’ll feel better, have more energy and be able to push yourself harder during workouts if you stay hydrated.

Don’t love the taste of plain water? Add some natural flavors from lemons, oranges, cucumbers, berries or mint to keep your taste buds happy.

10. Get Support and Accountability

As a busy parent, staying fit require a lot of support. It’s much more difficult to stay committed to your goals if you go it alone.

Working with a trainer or having workout buddies is a great way to keep you accountable. You’ll be less likely to cancel or skip your workout if you are meeting friends for a walk or group exercise class. Sharing your goals with your spouse, family and friends who will encourage and support you can also help you stay motivated even when you feel like giving up.

Just remember to be patient with yourself. Your day’s aren’t always going to go as planned. Life happens. Kids get sick. You get overwhelmed. Getting your workouts in and staying on track with healthy habits is a challenge for anyone, let alone a parent juggling multiple roles at once. It won’t always be perfect, but consistency is the most important element to success.

By Sarah Haas. Sarah is a women’s weight loss and fitness coach, integrative nutrition health coach, certified personal trainer, and diabetes expert. Sarah has a passion for empowering busy women to find body love and get their swagger on.

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