Do New Parents Have to Miss Out on Exercise?

July 20, 2007

by Mark Bishop, HSC Deputy Director

As a marathon runner and new dad of a 1-year-old boy, I could relate to this July 5th story in The New York Times about a University of Pittsburgh study that shows parenthood leads to less exercise.

Henry_2

It’s a difficult struggle to find balance in a hectic life, and, when you have a baby, it can get that much harder. Setting aside time for exercise is often the first thing that takes a hit.

I have my own strategies of working in my workouts while caring for my son. I am thankful that Henry loves our jogging stroller and I take frequent runs with him – and, as a side benefit, my wife gets some alone time.

The Times story reveals an interesting point about our collective attitude toward exercise:

No doubt having less free time as parents and more obligations (financial and logistical) lead regular exercisers to do far less. But experts also point to more surprising reasons for the decline.

Too many Americans have an all-or-nothing mentality toward fitness, said Dr. Harvey B. Simon, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. If they can’t find a 45-minute window to bike, they don’t substitute by strapping on a BabyBjörn and taking a stroll.

“There is a very common misconception, one that is shared by physicians as well as by the public, that exercise requires a set amount of time and a formal program,” said Dr. Simon, who has two grown daughters. “I’m fond of saying that the aerobic exercise movement inspired the few and discouraged the many.”

At HSC we advocate for improving nutrition and access to physical education and structured recess in schools. But we also understand that parents and families can play a major part by modeling healthy behavior — and that often means incorporating exercise into daily routines, which can be as simple as taking the stairs more instead of the elevator or taking walks around the neighborhood.

I can’t help but thinking that my running, with and without Henry, is important for both of us. I get my exercise in. He gets to experience the world at hyper-jogging-stroller speed. And, more importantly, he’s learning that movement, at any speed, is a good thing.