Many of those who work at home find fitness right near the bottom of their list of priorities. Work at home parents in particular often find that they’re so busy juggling the demands of children, partners, work and household chores that fitness doesn’t fit on the list at all. However, this approach to fitness is shortsighted: it ignores the benefits of physical activity on both physical health (which gives you all important energy to run around after little ones) and mental health (which can keep feelings of isolation and lack of motivation at bay) as well as keeping the “work at home biscuit belly” in check. But how do you fit this in?
Workout tip #1: involve the kids
Younger kids are usually fascinated watching mums (and dads) doing a home workout, and many are eager to join in. Try incorporating your kids into short bursts of exercise to get you both moving. Star jumps, squats, arm circles, sit ups, and the plank are all perfectly feasible for kids and can be incorporated into a 15-20 minute session to get your heart rate up and your blood pumping. If you’re feeling really brave, and your kids are into it, you can even use them in place of weights for overhead presses and weighted squats. Be wary of flying drool though – I speak from experience here! Make sure you both cool down with some easy static stretches.
Studies have shown that children are much more likely to go on to have a healthy attitude to exercise when parents regularly take part, and show enthusiasm and commitment to their exercise.1
Workout tip #2: mix it up
For the majority of people, performing the same workout all of the time not only becomes boring and monotonous, but it can also become less effective at burning calories and improving overall fitness. Of course, doing the same thing every day of every week is better than doing nothing at all, but for best results considering mixing up your exercise sessions and varying your home workout types.
On days 1, 3 and 5 try strength training – either with weights (your children?) or just your bodyweight. Squats, push-ups, pull-ups, chair dips are all effective home based bodyweight exercises that have a huge impact on fitness and calorie burn. Then, on days 2, 4 and 6/7 fit in some cardio: walking, running, cycling (static bike or out on the road) etc.
If you can get half an hour away from the kids and responsibilities at home, run around the block or a local park a few times. If you’ve not got that luxury, take them on a long walk (either get them walking too or strap them into the pushchair and off you go!)
One of my favourite ways of fitting in cardio (running) when I have to look after the kids is to visit the local park. I let them tire themselves out on the play equipment while I run the perimeter of the park. They’re never out of sight but are learning independence and to support each other, and I fit in a great cardio workout. We’re usually all exhausted by the time we return home!
Workout tip #3: short bursts of intensive exercise for fat burning
If you’ve got the “work at home biscuit belly” (it’s so easy to dip into the snack cupboard every time you make a cuppa, right?) you might want to consider short bursts of intensive activity instead of long runs or other cardio sessions. Numerous studies2 support the theory that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) burns more fat than steady sessions of exercise. This might even mean that you can burn more calories in a shorter space of time, and as work at home parents have little time as it is, this is ideal!
It doesn’t seem to matter what you choose as your activity for HIIT, as long as you alternate between bursts of high intensity (maximum effort) and then lower intensity exercise. Bodybuilding.com recommends 15 seconds of high-intensity exercise such as skipping (with a skipping rope), sprinting or using a stationary exercise bike with 60 seconds of rest of low-intensity effort. As you progress, you can increase the amount of high-intensity effort you put in and decrease the amount of low-intensity effort.
Workout tip #4: stop taking shortcuts
One of the biggest barriers to fitness has to be the luxury and convenience of modern technology. Escalators, elevators, even the washing machine encourage us to move less and less. As well as fitting in dedicated physical activity to your routine, consider increasing your incidental exercise too: take the stairs instead of elevator, hang your washing outside instead of tumble drying (I admit, hand-washing is too extreme even for me), walk or cycle the school run instead of taking the car, walk to the shops for your pint of milk, even just standing instead of sitting keeps your body active for longer! For every thing you do yourself instead of relying on technology or furniture, you’re moving muscles and burning calories.
Workout tip #5: prioritise rest
It might seem tempting (or even necessary) to burn the midnight oil to catch up when you have deadlines approaching or have not managed to achieve much in a working day, but choosing to stay up instead of sleeping can not only decrease your mental performance but it can discourage fat loss. Attempt to fit in your 8 hours of sleep a night (if the kids will let you).
In addition to making sure you’re getting adequate rest at night, it’s important to take rest days if you’re working out intensively too. Your muscles need time to repair and recover, particularly after HIIT workouts and strength training with heavy weights. It doesn’t mean you have to sit on your bum with the laptop all day (try a steady 30 minute walk instead of an fast 30 minute run) but take it easy to avoid exhausation and injury.
Workout tip #6: don’t give up
It’s incredibly easy to see exercise as a chore, especially in the early weeks (and even months), if you’re not really seeing any physical benefit. If you’re over-weight you may even feel worse before you feel better, but for every session of exercise or workout that you do you’re having positive effects on your body. You’re building and strengthing muscle, increasing your stamina and burning calories. Eventually a regular exercise regime becomes part of your routine, and you will do it without evening thinking. You may even grow to enjoy it!
Don’t make excuses, just do it (sorry Nike). There’s no such thing as lack of time, just lack of proper planning and prioritisation of your health and fitness.
1 Parental Influence on Young Children’s Physical Activity
2 The Ultimate 8-Week HIIT For Fat-Burning Program (see references)