For many parents, it’s difficult to find time to exercise. This can be especially true for parents with young children, all of whom have behavior problems from time to time.
At the beginning or end of a long day, exercising often feels like the last thing we want to do. But taking care of ourselves is necessary in order to have the energy, health and disposition to be the best parents we can be. When we don’t feel good, parenting is harder.
We are beginning to learn more about the relationship between physical activity and parenting outcomes. Research shows that parents with depression and/or poor physical health have a harder time practicing effective parenting strategies. Exercise, meanwhile, can have positive effects on both psychological and physical health. It’s correlated with increased happiness, better moods, improved cognitive performance and physical fitness.
Extensive research shows that exercise can ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. It releases “feel-good” hormones and increases body temperature, which can help calm us. Staying physically active can also help us maintain enough energy to keep up with our kids (especially those little ones) and live long lives so that we’re there for our children as they grow up.
While it might be difficult to find ways to add physical activity to your life, there are significant potential benefits to your well being, your parenting and your relationship with your children.
You don’t have to get a gym membership or go to spin classes to get moving. One strategy to add more physical activity to your life is to do fun, active things as a family. Instead of watching a movie, play pretend and “chase” each other around your house. You could go on a walk together, explore a new park (but don’t sit on the bench while the kids play), take the stairs and count them together, or park far away from a store and note all the colors of cars as you walk to the door. You could learn to jump rope, pogo stick or hula hoop together.
There are also many online, at-home exercise programs that are designed specifically for parents and that playfully incorporate children into the exercising. A Google search will lead you to a variety of options, including free and low-cost video programs.
If you have low energy and/or are not enjoying time with your child, speak to your health-care provider.
At the University of Kentucky, we are conducting a research study to learn more about the relationship between physical activity and parenting, and we’re looking for parents to participate.
If you are the parent of a 3- to 5-year-old child, sometimes struggle with your child’s behavior, and do not exercise regularly, you may be eligible for this study.
Christina Studts is an assistant professor in the health, behavior and society department in the UK College of Public Health.