Being a parent brings boundless love and an abundant array of so many other amazing gifts to our life…. but let’s not sugar-coat this gig too much…. it can also be tough…. especially if you’re a single parent like me!
Whilst each of us faces a diverse range of unique challenges, there are also many demands of parenthood that are virtually universal. Think about it…. not only are we all juggling the day to day logistics of running the home (including the home chores), as well as managing the kids (and their increasingly hectic schedules as they grow)…. but we also typically have financial commitments to meet, relationships to nurture, career heights to scale… and all of these priorities seem to be underscored by ever-constricting time limitations.
These challenging demands can create imbalances in our life, which can then lead to significant increases in our stress levels. All too often, when we’re being pulled and stretched by so many different competing priorities, it’s our commitment and attention to our own self-care that suffers and most commonly, it’s the physical activity (or structured exercise), and the healthy eating patterns that are the first to fall by the wayside.
When I first begin working with clients who haven’t exercised in a long time, I often hear comments about not having the energy, or being too tired to work out (and certainly, I hear this from the broader community as well)… but as counter-intuitive as this may sound, exercise (whilst it uses energy), isn’t going to deplete you of energy or make you feel tired. In fact, it’s going to have the complete opposite effect!
Exercise and General Health Benefits:
In addition to lowering your blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels, regulating blood sugar, reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and some forms of cancers, exercise can also prevent osteoporosis and fractures, obesity, depression, and even dementia (memory loss).
Exercise slows the aging process, increases energy and prolongs life… and it also helps us to reduce our stress levels on a daily basis!
Exercise and Stress Reduction:
From my own experience (which is also backed by scientific evidence), exercise is just as important for your head, as it is for your body, and it can make the most amazing changes to your general health, your metabolism, your body and your spirits.
Not only does exercise have the unique capacity to both stimulate and calm, but it’s also proven to be successful in the treatment of anxiety disorders and clinical depression!
The great thing about exercise is that is works at a behavioural level, as well as a neurochemical level to make you feel absolutely awesome!
Behaviourally, as our waistline shrinks and our fitness and strength begins to improve, our sense of mastery and control begins to increase and this in turn, boosts our confidence, pride and of course, our self-image. With a renewed spring in our step, we are able to approach both the mundane and the more challenging tasks in our lives with a heightened sense of positivity, and we begin to adopt a ‘success mindset’ that impacts upon all other facets of our life.
Exercise also reduces levels of the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol in our bodies, as well as stimulates the production of endorphins in the brain, which are the ‘feel good’ chemicals that also act as the body’s natural painkillers. Whilst you may be feeling low in energy prior to exercise, the release of these chemicals will have you feeling completely unstoppable and ready to take on the world afterwards!
Exercise & Life Balance:
Is it really possible that regular exercise can also reduce the conflict between competing priorities and restore balance within our lives?
Emerging evidence is indicating that it’s an emphatic YES!!
It’s another one of those counter-intuitive concepts though, right?! How can adding yet another activity into an already stretched schedule resolve our life balance trade-offs?
The reduction in stress levels has a lot to do with it of course, because reduced stress levels make time spent on any of our priorities feel more productive and/or enjoyable…. almost as if there’s been an ‘expansion’ of time!
Furthermore, exercise can also support the balancing and achievement of priorities through an increase in our sense of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is our own internal belief that we will be capable and effective in what we aim to achieve, and although it’s based upon self-perception, it significantly impacts our reality.
It’s been shown that people with high levels of self-efficacy are less likely to avoid difficult or demanding tasks or situations and are more likely to view them as challenges to be mastered. People, who exercise regularly, demonstrate high levels of self-efficacy, and this carried with them across all life aspects and roles. When they achieve a new fitness goal, they feel more capable in their personal life, their professional life and also in their social interactions.
Making A Start:
Except during illness, aim to exercise most days. (I typically recommend to clients that they dedicate 2 days per week to rest, relaxation and simple incidental physical activity, rather than any focussed exercise workout or intensive training, though).
Aim for about 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week, (meaning that your heart rate needs to increase to a point where it’s becoming a challenge to continue on a conversation). If you really want or need to decrease this amount of time, you simply need to increase your level of exertion/intensity.
Also, add a little strength training and stretching at least twice a week, and you’ll have a fun, well-rounded program for improved health, reduced stress, and a better life balance!
(And that’s got to make you a happier, healthier and more engaged parent, right?!!)
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