Exercise ideas for time poor mums

Learn how you can sneak in moments to exercise around your kids.
Published 5 May 2017

9 Ways to add more activity to your day


“The fitter you are the more energy you have.” This may be a universal truth of fitness, but finding time to exercise is often the last thing on a busy mum's never-ending to-do list. So when there never seems to be enough hours in the day, how do you fit in fitness? The answer is to make it incidental by incorporating bite size chunks of activity as you go about your day.

“While short bursts of exercise may not see you running marathons any time soon, there is something to be said about the saying ‘every bit counts’ when it comes to health,” says Rosemary Marchese, physiotherapist, mum of three and author of The Fit Busy Mum: Seven Habits for Success.

“Even if you can only spare five minutes at a time, it adds up. If you do 20 squats at the clothesline every day – squatting every time you pick up a piece of clothing, then reaching up to hang it – that’s more than 7000 squats per year. You can’t tell me that your legs and butt wouldn’t feel the effects!”


Science shows that every minute counts

A study by the University of Utah in the US found adding a one-minute burst of high intensity activity a few times a day can offset the kilojoule equivalent of 180g in weight. So playing tag with your toddler can make all the difference.

“We all know what’s good for us so it’s about finding the time to manage it all,” says Kathleen Alleaume, an exercise physiologist and mum of three. “It’s about not putting that pressure on yourself. If you miss a day, that’s fine, but try to schedule times even if you involve the whole family."

“Everyone’s going to be happier - you’ll release those endorphins, it will help you sleep deeper and you’ll be calmer because you’re getting all those happy hormones. Any movement counts, so find any opportunity to move more.”


How to move more around the house

1. Turn housework into exercise
From doing a squat and star jump between every item of washing you hang on the line to carrying your baby on your back as you vacuum, with a bit of creativity and the right technique, household tasks can be turned into a heart-pumping workout.

“It’s about being mindful of how you move,” Alleaume says, using an example of doing lunges as you stack the dishwasher: “Bending your knees rather than your back means you use your entire lower body and utilise more muscle groups.”

The more muscle you put into your chores, the more your body (and your home) will benefit. “Looking at cleaning with the perspective that it adds to your daily energy expenditure can be a motivating way to get rid of grime in the house and use muscles in a way they aren’t used to on a daily basis,” Marchese says. “If your bathroom needs a scrub, use your entire upper body, then squat to get to the lower areas.”

2. In the kitchen
Try these simple exercises when you’re cooking, bringing in the groceries, doing the washing up or any other activities. All you need are some bags and a kitchen bench.

3 kitchen moves


How to move more when you're out

3. At the playground
“At the playground, I let my kids climb and slide while I use a bench for seated knee tucks and then add in some lunges, too,” Marchese says. “Sometimes the kids will copy me – you’d be surprised how many times my 10-year-old can jump up on a step with some serious propulsion!”

Many fitness experts are fans of playground workouts; they’re a great way to incorporate some exercise into your day - even just pushing kids on the swing uses large muscle groups. Playing chase and incorporating some zigzag running will also get your heart rate up and improve your cardiovascular fitness.

Play along


4. At the supermarket
Every step counts, so try parking further away at the supermarket or leave the car at home and walk to the shops, daycare or school. You’ll get the added benefit of an upper-body workout as you carry the groceries or your child’s school bag.

Add even more exertion by doing your shopping with a basket instead of a trolley (which may have the added bonus of reducing impulse buys).


Dig deep

5. In the garden
You really do reap what you sow when it comes to gardening, which can burn more than 1000 kilojoules an hour, according to Harvard Medical School research. Digging uses not only your arms and shoulders but also your calves, thighs and glutes – it’s a full-body workout. In addition, being immersed in nature can be a great stress reliever and being outdoors amps up your all-important vitamin D intake, too.



How to move more at work

6. Get off the bus early
While cycling or walking to work will burn the most kilojoules, even just getting off the bus or train a stop early every day will make a big difference. A brisk 15-minute walk will burn about 300 kilojoules (about the same amount that’s in that 3pm cookie you’ll try to resist).

7. Take the stairs
Once you get there, opt for the stairs over the lift (you burn roughly four kilojoules for every five steps, so if you go up and down three flights every day for a year, you can burn off the equivalent of about 3.5kg).

Always take a lunch break and use it to move, and walk over to speak to colleagues instead of emailing. You can even do seated calf raises while you’re sitting at your desk.

8. Set an alarm
“I use the clock in the corner of my computer to get me moving,” Marchese says. “I get up at five minutes to the hour every hour. It’s a great opportunity to stretch out, have a tea break and just walk about. I then sit down and get working again by five minutes past the hour. Yes, it’s five to 10 minutes every hour but I find that I’m actually much more productive.”

9. Stand more
Astudy by exercise scientists at the University of Chester in the UK found that simply standing at work for three hours a day could burn an extra 602 kilojoules. Doing that five days a week adds up to more than 3000 kilojoules a week (equivalent to a 10km run) and more than 125,000 kilojoules a year or 3.5kg of weight loss – all that without even leaving your desk.


Remember to make 'me time'

When the daily commute and household tasks are done and dusted, Alleaume says the real key to moving more is to find activities you enjoy and want to make part of your everyday routine.

“As mothers, we tend to want to do too much and sometimes we’re so run off our feet, we really are too tired for exercise,” she adds.

“You’ve also got to make time for relaxation and breathing deeply and having some ‘me time’. It’s about finding that balance and finding something you enjoy so you’ll stick to it and make it part of your lifestyle.”