Rafed English

Working Moms and Working Out

by : Katy Abel

The Truth Comes Out

I was having coffee recently with a couple of old friends. We're all moms with busy jobs and hectic lives. It wasn't long before the discussion turned to exercise. How were we supposed to fit it in? Could our lives possibly allow the time to work on tightening our tushes and toning those abs, minus the guilty conscience?

We pondered these deep, meaningful questions for a few moments, until Amanda, an old friend for many years, blurted out a confession.

"Actually, John and I have decided to sacrifice family dinners so that we can work out on alternate nights," she said. 'We figure this is our last chance to get in shape. If we don't do it now, we never will."

My eyes widened. I was horrified, at first, and then secretly envious. How selfish to sacrifice time with your darling two-year-old -- but wait, no -- how courageous and committed, I thought, to carve out time that will, among other things, reduce your stress level and make you a better parent!

Still, I couldn't imagine spending the dinner hour at the gym, mostly because my two boys are school-aged and need me home in that critical 5p.m. to 8 p.m. window when the school day is rehashed, homework and chores are done, and the piano (on a good night) gets practiced.

And yet, I was intrigued. I'd wanted to build an exercise routine into my own life, but had failed repeatedly, always blaming the demands of a job or my sons. How did other working mothers manage to do it? For information and inspiration, I turned to moms who both work and work out, and discovered they have several things in common.

Sacrifice and Support

They make exercise a priority almost equal in status to family and work. Andrea C. runs a small business and has two daughters, ages 7 and 3. She works out for an hour and 15 minutes 4 to 5 times a week. "It makes me feel good and it's the only time I have for me," she says. "Once you've been doing it a while, it becomes like an addiction. You don't feel good unless you exercise."

Mary Ann M. is considering her exercise schedule in weighing a new job offer. "I know I'm not going to have as much time to work out," says this mother of two young children, "and it's definitely a factor in whether I'll take the job or not."

They sacrifice sleep or personal downtime, more often than family time. Joanne L., mother of two and full-time employee at a large insurance company, wakes up at 5:15 a.m. each morning and arrives at a company gym in the building where she works by 6 a.m. After a 45-minute workout, she's at her desk by 7:30 a.m. She harbors no guilt about her workouts. "The kids are still asleep and then their father's with them for a short time before they go to school."

Still, it doesn't work for everyone.

"I had a client who was a surgeon and had four kids," recalls Karen Ghiron of Wellness Works Inc. of Newton, Massachusetts. "The only time she could work out was at 8:30 at night after her kids went to bed and I couldn't find a trainer to work with her."

Ghiron says working moms who make workouts work are generally those who exercise in the early mornings, because "then it's done and the rest of the day doesn't get in the way."

They have supportive husbands (if not supportive children!) Joanne L. "cut a deal" with her husband four years ago: If he'd do mornings with the kids, she'd take care of the evenings. The tradeoff: She makes dinner and the next day's school lunches every evening after a long day at the office. She feels it's worth it.

"My husband is very complimentary about the way I look and that makes a difference," she says.

Andrea C.'s husband takes charge of the household on Saturday mornings so that she can work out at 8 a.m. On Sundays, she takes her younger daughter to the gym with her, when babysitting is available, after dropping an older child at Sunday school. Still, her older daughter guilt-trips her about the Saturday workouts. "She says, 'Why don't you stay home? Other mothers don't do this!' You should hear her -- she's good!"

You Don't Need to Be Supermom

All three moms interviewed for this article have scheduled regular workout times, negotiated with spouses and planned around children's schedules.

They schedule exercise, and commit more than an hour to each workout. Mary Ann M., like the others, works out for at least one hour and 20 minutes per session, doing a mix of cardiovascular aerobics and strength training.

"I used to do a quick routine - under 45 minutes," she recalls. "But I wasn't achieving any results."

Joanne L. never works out on the weekends. "There's no time. I coach my daughter's basketball team on Saturdays and my son has hockey."

They reject the "Supermom" label. "I'm not a Supermom. I'm just organized," says Joanne L. matter-of-factly. Andrea C. agrees.

"I'm just someone with a lot of self-discipline," she reasons.

They don't let guilt stop them. Even when kids whine or spouses complain, these moms believe the benefits of exercise are worth an occasional pang of guilt. Trainer Karen Ghiron sees too many women being too hard on themselves.

"Most of the working mothers I see have a tough time doing it. They sort of blame themselves," she observes. "They say, 'I had some time and I could have done it but I didn't!' They didn't because they're physically exhausted."

Still, those who manage to fit regular workouts into their busy lives say one of the rewards is more energy.

"Before I started working out, I'd be asleep before Jeopardy was over!" laughs Joanne L. "Now I can make it all the way until 10 p.m.."

But then, with her alarm set for 5:15 a.m. it's lights out.

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