Being a parent certainly has its ups and downs, and according to research, those extremes push much further in both directions. Parenting is both more rewarding and more exhausting than our jobs.
Exhaustion can be both mental and physical. The former involves many complex factors that are difficult to control, including your relationships, family background, and level of social support. But physically, there are many things new parents can do to better prepare for the challenge they’ll face.
Physical exhaustion is also a particular concern for new parents because this major life transition is associated with a significant drop-off in physical activity. So instead of letting this physicality overwhelm you, it’s time to take proactive measures and get ready.
Laying the groundwork
Parenting isn’t a sprint or even a marathon. It’s a commitment to days, weeks, months, and years of physical toil. Unlike an athlete, you don’t have a coach, a nutritionist, or any support staff whose job is to get you into peak condition. You’re going to have to take ownership of those tasks.
The foundations should be laid down early, if possible. Expectant moms should talk to their OB/Gyn about safe exercises during pregnancy. Dads-to-be should also consult their doctors if they aren’t in great shape.
Preparation should also include habit formation: eating and sleeping better, getting chores and to-dos done, finding time for what’s necessary. Parenting will disrupt your schedule no matter what, but if you have firmly established routines, it will be easier to retain structure and discipline in your day.
Train with intensity
Yes, being a parent is physically exhausting. And chances are, the last thing you want to do on any given day is to get some more exercise. But the emphasis here is on quality, not quantity.
Most of the activities related to childcare that tend to wear us down are low-intensity, high-volume, and repetitive. Think of cooking and meal preparation, cleaning, household repairs, attending to the little one’s needs, carrying and playing with them.
For many parents, this means experiencing physical stress that’s just a little greater than what they’re comfortable with. The body will adapt to these things over time. But if you rely on that mechanism, you’re always going to be playing catch-up.
With strength training, you can hit your muscles harder, building your strength and stamina beyond what’s required. The stronger you are, the greater your endurance, and the less tired you’ll get from doing all those mundane tasks.
Strength training can be effectively done in short sessions, making it easy to squeeze into a busy parent’s day. Again, it’s best to consult a professional for safety and recommended routines. In general, you’ll want to aim for a whole-body workout like Pilates because you’ll be needing every muscle to help handle the load.
Better diet and sleep
There’s one major aspect to physical training that often gets ignored in the transition to life as a new parent. How you eat and rest will not only determine how exhausted or energized you feel each day, but it will affect your body’s response to physical stimuli.
Even if you manage to adhere to your daily workouts while caring for your child, if you aren’t getting adequate recovery and nutrition, you won’t build strength. You’ll probably lose energy and risk injury.
It’s never going to be easy getting enough sleep when you have a newborn, toddler, or preschooler around. This is where support proves critical. If you can take time off by safely leaving your child with a relative, friend, neighbor, or caregiver, you can catch some badly-needed sleep.
Home-cooked meals tend to be healthier but also contribute to exhaustion. This is another task you can outsource if possible. Alternatively, you can save on prep and planning through a healthy meal delivery service.
New parents tend to indulge in new purchases, and if you’re going to shop, treat yourself to stuff that offers superior ergonomic comfort. It will offer a reprieve from the minor aches, pains, and repetitive stress you incur throughout the day.
For parents who’ve been driving all day, personalized soft foam car mats and lumbar support for the driver’s seat are invaluable. Those who work from home could shop around the gaming gear category instead, as gamers’ keyboards, mice, and chairs are optimized for spending hours in front of the screen.
Sure, many of these measures will require more from you: more time, more effort, more money. But the reward is a heightened capacity to be more present, attentive, and caring for your child each day. It makes you less frustrated, irritable, and fatigued, allowing you to experience more of the joys that make parenting so worthwhile.