THE FITNESS PRIORITY BY KRISTIN MCNEALUS, PT, DPT
You cannot continue to care for your family if you do not also care for yourself.
We all know that exercise is important to incorporate into our regular routine, and yet there are many excuses that get in the way, and the workouts get cut easier than other tasks that seem to be a higher priority at the time. It may seem impossible to exercise at times. We get busy and time is limited. We get tired, and it’s hard to find the energy to put into extra activity. However, if you make exercise a priority in your life, and take the time to take care of yourself, you will be a more exceptional parent! And you’ll be able to be at your best for longer.
Here is a Top 10 list for all the reasons exercise needs to be seen as a priority, and to combat those excuses. You cannot continue to care for your family if you do not also care for yourself. Do not wait until your body forces you to make a change; hopefully this list will motivate you to change your routine now.
#10: BACK PROTECTION
You put your body under a lot of stress on a daily basis, and your back is quite vulnerable. As a parent, you are likely lifting and twisting many times throughout the day, which puts a great deal of strain on the lower back. If your child has special needs and needs to be transferred and carried as they get bigger and heavier, that load goes to that same lumbar region. If you hurt your back, it will be harder to care for your family.
The lumbar spine does not have the ribs to help with stabilization, so it is important to keep all of the core muscles strong to compensate for the lack of bony support. It is important to exercise the abdominals and the back extensors. Be sure to stretch your hips in all directions as well because these muscles attach to the lumbar spine and the pelvis and contribute to back pain.
#9: HEALTHY JOINTS
Just like the back, all joints are supported by muscles. Keeping the muscles strong and balanced can help prevent injuries, as well as ward off some common overuse injuries. Many people use joint pain as a reason to limit exercise, but it is important to find an exercise that your body can tolerate. If walking hurts, try riding a bike or getting in a pool. Exercise will decrease any pain you already have. Your joints will thank you!
#8: DECREASE HEALTH COMPLICATIONS
It is important to exercise to decrease the risk of common health complications like heart disease and diabetes. These diseases are preventable, and they are manageable with lifestyle changes – one of which is exercise. Diabetes causes all sorts of issues that can negatively impact your life – neuropathy, cataracts, kidney disease, etc. Heart disease and diabetes also increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, which could significantly limit your ability to provide physical care to your loved ones, and may even necessitate assistance to complete your own daily activities.
#7: MANAGE WEIGHT
It is important to maintain a healthy weight for all of the reasons above. Increased weight increases the stress on the body, and you are at an increased risk for those same health complications associated with a sedentary lifestyle and you also increase your risk for injury. Performing your daily activities is more effortful when you are carrying more weight, and it will be more difficult to care for your growing child. Remember that adding exercise to your regular routine is not a free pass to neglect your nutrition – and, more important, exercise does not allow you to eat more. It still comes down to calories in versus calories out; your workout will likely equate to a latte worth of calories. Not a cupcake, not French fries.
#6: INCREASE ENERGY
It is easy to decide to skip your workout because you feel tired or run down. But numerous studies show that exercise increases your energy! It gets the blood flowing faster, carrying that oxygen rich blood to the brain and muscles, and endorphins get released – you will feel more awake and more alert! Your family will benefit from an energetic parent! If you really feel like you cannot get your workout done, try starting with 10 minutes. If after 10 minutes of exercise, you still feel fatigued, listen to your body and call it a day. However, more than likely, after 10 minutes, you will feel ready to do more.
#5: IMPROVE SLEEP
Exercise will improve your ability to sleep – which will also contribute to having more energy! Feeling more rested also helps to decrease the perception of pain, and the perception of stress. You may not be able to get more hours of sleep, so wouldn’t it be great to improve the quality of that limited quantity?
#4: IMPROVED SELF CONFIDENCE
Need I say more? Congratulations if you don’t need this benefit, however for the rest of us who can use a little boost in confidence now and then, studies show that exercise improves self esteem, self image and confidence.
#3: KEEP YOUR BRAIN HEALTHY
As mentioned earlier, exercise increases the delivery of oxygen to the brain – our brain contributes to only 3lbs of our body weight, however it uses 20percent of our oxygen! This increased blood flow also helps to carry out toxins. We need to keep our minds and memory sharp to stay exceptional
#2: DECREASE STRESS
We all have stressors in our live. It’s not a competition as to who has more stress or harder situations; many of the sources of stress are out of our control. How we deal with that stress is within our control. So this is what we want to focus on. There are many unhealthy ways to deal with stress, whereas exercise is a health and more effective way to manage the emotions that are evoked by tress. Exercise can clarify the situation so that navigating through gets easier. Your perspective of the situation can be changed when you step away to exercise. Those endorphins that get released will naturally improve your mood. Remember, the stressor is not going away, so it’s up to you to manage how it impacts you.
#1: BE A HEALTHY EXAMPLE
The number one reason to exercise is to be an example to your family! If you make a priority to take care of yourself, you will not only be a more exceptional parent, but your family will learn from this routine. They will see and feel the benefits. It is important for your children to learn to incorporate physical activity into their lives, and other family members will hopefully also follow your lead and take control of their own health.
Again, it may seem impossible to take 30 minutes a day for yourself, but hopefully you can see how the benefits prove you can’t afford not to take this time. It is important to consult your physician or physical therapist before starting an exercise regiment. Also, start slow and build as your body can tolerate. A physical therapist can also help if you need individual guidance. •
THE FITNESS PRIORITY
Kristin McNealus, PT, DPT, ATP received her Masters in Physical Therapy from Boston University then went on to earn her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from MGH Institute of Health Professions. She has been a staff physical therapist on inpatient rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injuries at a number of hospitals in Southern California, as well as Director of a community adaptive gym for people with neurological injuries. She is a member of the International Network Spinal Cord Injury
Physiotherapists, and has contributed to the APTA Guidelines for Exercising with a SCI. She has completed 3 marathons, and 25 triathlons, including the Ironman! SCI Total Fitness is designed to promote health and wellness for people with physical disabilities.