When Exercise Should Be The Last Thing on Your Mind
Raising young children is a marathon in itself
I belong to a Facebook community which promotes the value of living well with a focus on eating well for best health and moving your body to assist with optimal well-being.
But did I really read this right when I saw a post from a mother of two very young children, spaced very closely together, and in full-time paid work, asking for advice on how to stick to a healthy living program to combat her dissatisfaction with her weight, and there were replies from women suggesting that she rise at 3.30AM or, on a kinder note (sarcasm), at least before when her children arise at 5.30AM to commence exercise?
Seriously, are we that focused on the goal of being as slim and toned as possible or on driving ourselves as hard as we possibly can towards some subjective form of perfection, that we would fore-sake the physical and mental health benefits of sleep and rest? Yes, studies support exercise as very beneficial for physical and mental well-being but I am not sure if this is where the other factors in one’s life preclude sufficient, quality sleep.
In my opinion, where you are surviving on minimal and often broken sleep, you are on a ticket to being very strung-out, exhausted and far from living your best life if you choose waking in such early hours to exercise over prolonging sleep and rest to nurture your body and mind to support you through the taxing, juggling routine of unpaid and paid work whilst raising young children.
Sure, we want to look good and our mind seems to particularly harness a focus on quickly resolving our self-perceived imperfections at the more emotionally vulnerable times in our lives such as when we are raising young children. But when you really stop and look in the mirror can you cherish yourself for all that you are? As an imperfect human being who is making many sacrifices to prioritise the needs of young children who are dependent on you right now but who also needs to cut themselves some slack so that if they don’t have the perfect waistline right now it is really not the quality about yourself that should be allowed to annihilate your sense of worth.
So as your mind wrestles with the dilemma of exercise versus more sleep and the associated guilt weights heavily, consider the following:
- What would it feel like to be kind to myself to enable my mind and body to rest a bit longer? Would that have any benefits in terms of how I treat myself or manage my life tasks today including my responses to my children, my partner, or colleagues?;
- Does all this shaming myself about the need to exercise (or cutting calories and so on) really bring me what I want in life? Does beating up on myself really help me to live the life I want or model self-compassion to my children who will face ordeals in life and a capacity to establish realistic expectations on themselves will be critical for managing this pain with resilience?;
- Sleep-deprivation impacts negatively on metabolism (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929498/) so you could be doing your body a major disservice by further limiting any additional access you can get to shut-eye;
- If I know I feel best within myself with physical exertion, can I put this into short bursts throughout the day? How about the research showing that very small bursts of exercise can be optimal for health? (see http://time.com/3082281/short-bursts-of-exercise-are-better-than-exercising-nonstop/);
- Could I put any time towards practicing self-compassion even instead of exercise? (see http://self-compassion.org/ for Kristin Neff’s fantastic work on self-compassion — a wonderful movement away from the traditional self-flagellation and self-criticism approach ingrained in many of us from early on in life); and
- Can I sit with knowing that one day more sleep will return and I will have the energy to really experience the joy of appreciating my body can move with an intention to strengthen and rejoice in this capacity instead of blindly pushing myself through a fog of self-deprivation towards some expectation that I perhaps cannot truly say even say comes from my own values about what is really important right now?
Embracing the acceptance that aspects of life may not be fully attended to when we are raising children is by no means easy. But a spirit of kindness and flexibility towards oneself when the circumstances limit insufficient sleep to be as proactive in all areas of our lives as we would like will assist in allowing us to be more fully present in the moments when we really do need to show up — do you really want to miss those significant moments, with your eyes glazed over and your head foggy from fatigue, having prided yourself on having been awake exercising in the dark?