Time to exercise. Where do I find it?

Oct 01 2012 Published by under [Life Trajectories]

Wife-like Substance and I have been trying, with varying degrees of success, to carve out some time to get some exercise over the last few months. For a while we had a good stretch going, but travel over the summer kind of messed everything up. The other problem: we were waking up before 5:00am to fit it in. After a while that just starts to hurt.

We've been attempting to get back into that schedule for a few weeks now, but with darker mornings and more hectic days, that "off" button on the alarm is damn easy to find at o'-dark-thirty. So we need a new plan, but when the hell do we wedge an hour of new activity into our lives? As it stands, our schedule looks roughly like this:

5:30 wake up and get things ready for the day (on weekends, the kids wake up now too)

6:30 Wake up the kids (magically, only on weekdays) and eat family breakfast

7:30 drop kids off at day care and get into work.

4:30 head home to make dinner

5:30 dinner

6:30 bath time

7-7:30 kids in bed

7:30-8:30 prep lunches and dinner for the next day or eat our own dinner (if we fed the kids separately)

8:30 - 10:00 mixture of next day prep, finish up work that needs doing, or actually getting to talk.

10:00-11:00 hopefully make it to bed sometime in this hour.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I've tried the mid-day run and that always seems to lose to more pressing commitments. I've tried dropping the kids off and going then, but that means skipping breakfast and just gets tough to juggle. Night time is kids-swim-in-the-crazy-pool in our house, which seems like a bad time to take off and leave one parent to play life-guard.

However, people do make it work for them, so I'm looking for suggestions. How do you make time for physical activity beyond baby-chasing?

36 responses so far

  • I sometimes run for ~45 min right after we both come home with BlueEyes (so around 5.00) and then Dr. BrownEyes makes dinner at that time. So then I come back and dinner is finished! However, now that I'm not pumping milk at work anymore (and BlueEyes is still nursing) that doesn't really work for boob-related reasons. What works best for us is biking to and from work (~4 mile bike ride), but that only works because we both work at the same place so one of us drives and the other bikes.

  • Meghan says:

    Treadmill desk! It's not cardio, but it's something, at least. A friend told me "nothing says pretenure parent like a treadmill desk". She had a point.

  • sciwo says:

    I'll be interested to hear the suggestions you get. I'm still single parenting, so leaving one parent to play lifeguard in the early morning or evening is not an option at the moment. If I go after dropping Minnow at school, I don't get to my office until close to 10:30, and the morning work time gained by skipping a shower at home doesn't seem to offset the work time lost. If I go at the end of the workday, I just...don't. It never ranks at the top of the flaming pile of urgency at the end of the work day. Currently, the only thing I semi-routinely manage is 20 minutes on the elliptical while Minnow has swimming lessons at the University pool, but that's not enough and Minnow would rather me watch her swim.

    With the permanent addition of the co-parent in a few months, scheduling will get somewhat easier, but snuggling in bed gets so much more enticing. Based on trial experiments, it's a pretty much net wash. So, yeah, how the fuck do you do it?

  • I'm dealing with exactly the same thing. I used to LOVE my morning workouts: being at the gym at 6AM. But, baby routinely wakes up between 6 and 7. I'm still nursing too, and would like to get be able to deal with that issue as soon as possible! Working out during the day has been a challenge, but it's my only option.

    Beginning last week, this is what I'm trying to do:
    Wake at 5AM (ugg, I know. But it's so quiet in the house and I can get a little bit of work done before baby wakes up).
    1-2 days a week, I go to the gym for an 8:30 or 9AM class. Yes, this puts me in my office late, but I'm trying to offset that lost desktime by getting up at 5AM
    1 day a week - lunchtime workout
    1 day a week - early AM (6) workout. Hubby will be on call for baby. Boobs will hurt, but I'll survive.
    Weekends, I'm pretty much on duty with baby but we go for at least 1 walk a day. If I bump that up to jogging......

    Once I'm home for the day, I'm home. I'm too tired to go to the gym and I want to spend a little bit of time with the family before going to sleep.

    My husband has been getting his workouts in when I'm putting baby to sleep (after bathtime). He goes for 45min-1, either bike rides or walks. But it is starting to get dark earlier and I'm not sure how long it will last (he may have to get a gym membership!).

    Ask me in a month or 2 if I stuck to the above schedule. My fingers are crossed I can make it work!

  • We strategically bought our house so that we were a 30 minute walk to campus. The faster I walk the more free time at work I have before my overscheduled day begins. I also purposefully don't make coffee in the lab so that I have an excuse to get out and walk around campus. We keep talking about trying to get something more rigorous going, but for now I take heart in the studies that say walking even for a short time every day might help keep me from keeling over at 50 (which is about the time I'll be able to exercise regularly again).

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Buying within walking/biking distance was not an option for us, so we remain car commuters. We are also beholden to the hours that day care will watch the kids, so anything we do outside those hours has to involve a plan for the kids as well. Once the Weer One is a little older it may be easier and we can do some family things. For now, however, it is not.

  • Viola says:

    Dude - that is a packed schedule. Are the Wee and Weer Ones amenable to a jogging stroller at all, or are they completely the wrong size or temperament for that? The only possibility I could see would be you and your wife trading off dinner making with waking or running (taking the kids in the stroller) right after you get home from work. That would completely depend on your preferred mode of exercise and the kids, of course. It would be cool if it worked, since you're mainly home when the sun is still out in most parts of the county.

  • drugmonkey says:

    After bedtime for the kids has been my most consistent interval.

  • Travis says:

    It depends on what you are willing to consider "exercise". The ideal situation is to workout while you're doing other things, so that you don't need to sequester 45-60 minutes from an already crazy busy schedule.

    For cardio, I would echo Megan's treadmill desk suggestion, or you could also look into putting together a cheap bike desk (I'm riding on a bike desk as I type this). These things aren't ideal, but they are better than nothing, and I'm always surprised at how much I enjoy pedaling while I do work on the computer. IMHO you can get a higher intensity workout on the bike, since you can still type/read while pedaling at a pretty good clip (not at the I do this all the time), while it's really tough to read while walking at anything faster than a crawl.

    For strength training, you could do something like my co-blogger Peter tried for a while, which was doing random tabata-style exercises every few minutes throughout the day. It wouldn't be tough at all to come up with 4 different sets of resistance exercises that could be done in your office throughout the day (once an hour or something).


    I can't do that sort of thing at the office as my desk is in a very small cubicle surrounded by other students, but when I work from home I often throw in a set or two of push-ups or chin-ups just to break things up throughout the day. You can also duck into a stairwell and jog up and down the stairs a few times pretty much whenever you want.

    Then there are little things like just parking really far from your office or converting all your meetings into walking meetings (my supervisor and I do this all the time). If you are looking to get into shape for a triathlon or something then these sorts of things probably aren't going to work, but if you're looking to just stay healthy then they're probably the way to go.

    FWIW, the health benefits of high intensity interval training (essentially going full out for just a few minutes per day) are also pretty impressive. So if you just did 5-10 minutes of really hard exercise everyday, coupled with more light intensity stuff throughout the workday, then you should get most of the health benefits of an active lifestyle in a relatively short amount of time.


  • Sara says:

    I agree with drugmonkey -- after bed time seems best. My partner and I can alternate depending on our work needs/energy level and sneak out for a yoga class, jog or swim. Usually we're back by 9 to get an hour or two of work/laundry/lunch prep in. We do all our food shopping on the weekends.

  • gerty-z says:

    I can't do the after bedtime workouts - for some reason it just doesn't work. I have found that working out first thing in the morning works for me. I'm lucky, because Mini-G doesn't get up until 7, so I can go for a run at 6:00 am and still make it home to take her into school. Usually 1-2x/week I also go to the gym in the afternoon, usually around 1:00 pm when my energy is lowest and I'm a little useless in lab anyway. This is easier for me because on those days I don't have to get home early in the evenings. Dr Mrs GZ and I have a "divide and conquer" approach where one of us is on for AM and the other for PM so the other can have some time to get in a workout.

  • M says:

    We have older kids (my stepkids) so it's probably easier. They go to bed a bit later, and are more independent/flexible.

    Some possibilities:
    -One of us will wake up at 4:45-5:00 AM to make a 5:30-6:30 AM workout (yes, it sucks), while the other stays home to sleep in and start the morning routine.
    -We will pick up the kids at after school care and bring them to a 5:00 or 6:00 PM workout with us, where they are told to behave (and work on homework, reading, etc) or else. Dinner will be ready (or almost ready, requiring <15 min prep time) when we get home, so this requires some organization. I make meal plans every week and do a lot of make-ahead cooking on the weekends, and an occasional weeknight or two so that we can stay on top of meal time.
    -We used to workout at work prior to picking the kids up at 6:00 at aftercare.
    -On the weekends, we head to a nearby high school track and run a mile or two and maybe do some pushups, etc. The kids will play soccer/football, exercise with us, etc. This takes about 40 min. total, and I assume should be a possibility for most people.
    -I have a small workout area setup with some mats, free weights, kettlebells, etc. We do stretching, etc, here before bed, but if I really couldn't find a way to make it out of the house for enough full workouts a week, I would start doing 30 minute bodyweight/kettlebell routines at home.

    Our kids are 7 and 9, btw. If I were in a situation where the kids had to go to bed at 7-7:30 instead of 8:30-9:00, and couldn't do the AM workout, I would probably workout after they went to bed. However, I do not envy the hecticness of having young kids, and am somewhat terrified for when I have my own - I know it will be tough!

  • kaye says:

    I work out for five minutes right after I wake up --- short, high-intensity workouts are supposed to be good for you --- several times a week. I make a list of calisthenic exercises, do some jumping jacks, and go through the list as quickly as possible while making sure my form is proper. It really gets the heart rate up. Sometimes I use a timer or a five-minute-long track of music if I think I'm going too slowly.

  • Jair says:

    Exercise doesn't have to take a solid chunk of time. At http://nanoworkout.com/ they have mini exercises you can do over the course of the day. I use them for inspiration and come up with my own as well. You can also lookup "bodyweight exercise" on google to find exercises that have no equipment requirments.

  • JGB says:

    I recommend eccentric exercise workouts. Having worked myself into shape I discovered them through the book Smarter Science of Slim. 1/week for 20 minutes tops is all you need. It sounded too good to be true, but I was actually able to run farther after doing those workouts, then when I was trying to do cardio. Be forewarned they do really drain you like described in the book.

  • Monisha says:

    I don't know that this will work, but for years when mine were young, i did this:

    6am - up with kids, caffeinating and breakfast
    8am - drive in/drop off at daycare or school
    8:30 - 9:30 am - writing time for the day
    9:45 - 11:00am - run (3 days per week) or teach (2 days per week).
    11:00 - 5:00 - meetings/course prep/lab and data/squeeze in more writing/reading.

    I cannot work out at night in any serious way - or even in the pre-dinner realm. But this way, a few days a week, my running time was like an extension of the writing time so it really helped me with thinking and, though it robbed me of desk time, i think it paid back major dividends in ideas.

    my husband's strategy, which would not work for me, was to cut back to one run per week, but the run takes 2.5 hours and is over mountain terrain, and he does it every saturday morning.

    we also had years of biking (our route is 7 miles with about 1500 feet elevation gain, so it is somewhat strenuous), alternating who biked and who schlepped kids, but then the kids schedules got very complicated and so that isn't an option any more.

  • Tim says:

    My wife and I have struggled with the same problem for a while, and are trying a new routine out that may or may not work long term, but has been working pretty well for a few weeks at least. Currently we are each only trying to exercise three days a week, so that helps.

    I like to run, my wife likes to swim, so usually what we do is that I drop off the kid so my wife can leave early to swim before work, and then I run after drop off and she picks up the kid so I can work late to make up for the late start. We do this twice a week during the week, and then each exercise separately one day over the weekend.

    We also each have one day a week when we stay late at the lab, coming home just before bedtime (8 pm), so we can use that time to catch up on work that gets missed on the exercise days. The tradeoff is that we spend a lot less time together as a family in the evening, so we'll see how manageable that turns out to be in the long term.

  • Margaret says:

    First, figure out what time of day you will actually go exercise if the slot is available. I can't do after dinner, or immediately after breakfast or lunch. Late morning is best for me, so I try to free up time there. How to do that? Move things around and consolidate.

    For example, if you and/or your wife cooks dinner for an hour every night, stop it. Cook larger amounts and eat leftovers half the week, like we do, or else figure out how to get food someone else has made that is healthy (take-out, etc.). Then you should have more pre-dinner time. Use this time to either do next-day prep or finish up work that needs doing or errands or housework. That will free up some time in either the morning or post-kids-bedtime that you can use to get in the work that you didn't do during the day when you exercised.

    Or, are there things you can put off during the week to the weekend so that you have more week time to exercise?

    Also important: don't commit to exercising every day at first. You'll just fail and give up on it. Figure out 2-3 times per week you can commit to and then do that. I try to do two short runs during the week, and then a longer bike ride on the weekend. I usually get between 2 and 3 workouts per week.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I'm trying not to sacrifice family time, or be the dude who is often mysteriously drenched in sweat in his office after 5 minutes of odd noises. Maybe you can't have it all, but I'm going to shoot for that.

  • Alyssa says:

    For the past month or so, I've been trying to get in morning workouts. DH and I alternate waking up when our son wakes up (usually between 6-6:30am). On the days where I don't get up, I can sleep in until 7am (BLISS!!). But, I've been trying to get up at 6:30 and go for a walk/jog/bike ride.

    I've been on-and-off successful with this - I do find it a hell of a lot easier to talk myself into working out in the morning than in the evening after bedtime, even though I have much more time then (son goes down around 7:30, we go to bed around 10pm and don't do any work in the evenings). BUT, I have been finding it tougher now that it's pretty dark in the mornings. Bike rides are definitely out, since I don't trust the drivers around here. My plan is to start a couch-to-5K plan...starting tomorrow...you know, if it's not raining or anything 😛

    Good luck - it's so tough. Like Morgan said, I'll be 50 before I can start exercising regularly again!

  • KateClancy says:

    I'm another after-bedtime person, for the most part. I also found a gym that has childcare, so I often go right after picking my kiddo up from school (it's the only place she gets to play with princess stuff so she loves it).

    But I think finding time for exercise is less about finding time and more about figuring out why you want to exercise. For me, exercise is a priority because I play a competitive sport. I need to be very fit in order to be good enough to make the team, and in order to put enough hurt on the other team to make them cry for their mommas (kinda the funnest part of the sport). So, over the last two years I've figured out various ways to fit it in, that involve trading off with my husband for my Saturday two-hour and Sunday three-hour practices, finding the gym with childcare that I mentioned, and working out at night (my other weeknight practices are also at night, after bedtime).

    If I didn't play roller derby, it would be a lower priority for sure. And I would probably just find ways to integrate kid playtime with workout time. I do have some workout DVDs that I sometimes do with my daughter. She stays interested through the first 90 seconds, then does something else, then usually interrupts me before I'm done. But I can get in 20 minutes that way.

  • "Buying within walking/biking distance was not an option for us, so we remain car commuters."

    It doesn't have to be either-or. If you put a bike rack on your car you could drive to a safe parking spot within a reasonable biking distance, and cycle the rest of the way to work.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    When I was a graduate student I road a bike most of the time and my wife used the car.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    Paraphrasing Hillel: "Do not say, I will study when I have time, for you will never have time."

    In my case, there's a stair machine set up with a wall-mounted display and a computer for reading. Surely there's enough reading in the day, even for not-much-concentration-required material [1] to get in at least a bit of a workout before breakfast?

    [1] Because a good workout will deplete enough oxygen that you should never have a keyboard handy.

  • Dr. O says:

    My newest strategy is to go to the gym at work in the morning. I don't shower/ get ready before heading in, which gives me more time to sleep, chill with Monkey before work. And I'm forced to go to the gym at work, at least to shower and get ready, which keeps me from pushing the workout aside. On crazier mornings, I sometimes cut my workout a little short. I also have the benefit of Hubby doing daycare pickup so that I can work a little later if needed.

  • crystaldoc says:

    What's worked for the spouse and I for quite a few years now is getting up at 4 a.m. and turning our extra bedroom into home gym with stationary bike, rower, elliptical, a yoga mat and some weight stuff, so we can exercise simultaneously and regardless of weather, which can be an issue where we live. It can be hard to be motivated at that time of day, but I have got used to it. Sometimes I manage stretches of productivity by reviewing manuscripts, grants, or grad school applications while on the elliptical or bike (when things get really crazy at work), but more often I am less motivated and watch something action-oriented and brainless from Netflicks or listen to music while on the bike or elliptical. The kids sleep in until 6-6:30, and the adults try to be exercised, showered and packed or close to it by that point. Of course, I admit that I am pretty ineffectual for evening work and fall asleep when the kids do at 8:30-9 p.m.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I've tried the no shower to work thing and my issue becomes breakfast. Bringing lunch into work is one thing. things get complicated when you start hauling two meals. I guess I could just start leaving breakfast food here.

    crystaldoc, I hear you on the morning workout, we were making that work for a while. I'm just NOT a morning person though, so it really wears on me. We had a 6 week stretch going and I still couldn't get used to it, mostly because I just can't make myself sleep at 9:00pm.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    So for you night exercisers, how do you deal with dinner? Do you eat early and just work out once you digest or do you eat late?

  • MediumPriority4Life says:

    Run before making lunches and next days dinner. Then after running make the lunches and dinner while you cool down. Then it is off to bed.

  • scicurious says:

    Ok, having no kids I can't POSSIBLY compare to that schedule, but PLS, I do bring my own breakfast in and it doesn't add too much bulk. Energy bars as my usual pick, and they aren't too expensive if you can bake them yourself (though looking at your schedule...well I'd buy them), and they're small.

  • chall says:

    PLS, I've tried to get used to the morning work out routine... now I'm fairly ok with it, mainly b/c no shower before just "roll out of bed and into gym". Breakfast, boiled egg (night before) and a greek yoghurt (or Starbucks breakfast wrap with egg whites). I'm not the picky eater though, and eat same breakfast every time ^^

    As for the evening work out, I usually space the lunch a bit later in the day, a snack 1h before work out and then a snack after work out. No real dinner dinner but boiled egg/eggwhite omelette/rye sandwich w turkey etc... it's a little boring but i can't figure it out otherwiese.

    (that said, I don't have kids so... maybe not really what you were looking for?)

  • BBBShrewHarpy says:

    It sounds like you and your wife double-team a lot (or maybe that is just for the simplicity of the narrative). The 4:30 -6:00 slot looks best to me. If one of you picks up the kids and the other makes dinner, could you alternate and double up so that each of you gets to run, go to the gym, swim, go to exercise class in that slot and make it home part-way through the kids' dinner? It does put a lot of pressure on the spouse on-duty, but you don't seem to have much wiggle room there. After such a hectic day, I'm guessing exercising after they go to bed is not going to happen on a regular basis.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Sci, I like a real breakfast, unfortunately.

    Chall, I also love cooking and we routinely eat family dinners, which I think are important even when they are terrible (the yelling, not the food).

    BBBS, We do double team a lot, mostly because the ages are tough right now. The 4.5 yo wants attention and the 1 yo uses the lack of focus to eat cat food or play in the toilet. Typically one of us wrangles while the other cooks. It is possible we can begin to play with this arrangement, especially as the youngest gets a touch older.

  • rs says:

    not a great suggestion, but I think you should just relax and enjoy your family time. The kids will grow up before you will even blink and then you all can go for a walk/bike/swim together.

  • friendly guy says:

    Buy a treadmill. Seriously. You can get a half hour running in after the children go to bed on some of the weekdays, and get outside for a run on the weekend. You can always watch stuff on TV while you are running.

  • [...] few months ago I asked readers when they made time for exercise. For a couple of months this summer my wife and I were waking up at 4:50am to be able to fit in a [...]

Leave a Reply