Eleven exercise excuse-busters for busy dads

By Edward (Ted) Chaplain, M.D., family medicine and obstetrics, Providence Medical Group-The Plaza

Dads, I know you're busy. I know that your after-work to-do list probably includes some combination of lawn mowing, leaky-faucet fixing, oil changing, dog walking, kid chauffeuring, sport coaching, dishwasher unloading, pasta stirring, table setting, dishwasher loading, performance appreciation, homework assistance and bedtime story reading. So when I try to add one more thing to your list – exercise – I understand your pained expression and your litany of reasons why you don't have time for that. But guys, as a working father of three kids myself, I'm here to tell you: It can be done.

Not only can it be done, but it should be done. Making time to stay active and fit makes you a better dad in literally hundreds of ways. To name just a few: It gives you the energy and stamina to keep up with little ones, it helps you blow off stress in a productive and family-friendly way, it sets a healthy example for your kids, and it strengthens your heart and lengthens your life so you'll be around longer for them.

So let's get beyond the excuses. Here are 11 tips to help you find the time, make the time and put in the time to stay in shape.

1. Make it a priority. Exercise does take time. But for all of the reasons I just mentioned, and any that you care to add (A trimmer waist? Better sleep? Lower blood pressure? A clearer head?), it's really, really worth it.

2. Put it on the schedule. You say you don't have time? Make time. A lot of people find it easier to stick with an exercise commitment when they've blocked out a spot for it on their calendars. Find one 30-minute slot in your day, or two 15-minute ones, or three 10-minute ones, and put it on the schedule – because if exercise isn't even on the to-do list, it doesn't stand a chance.

3. Get it done in the morning. Studies show that people stick with an exercise program better if they do it first thing in the morning. That's especially true for busy dads, whose days can get thrown off quickly by a sick child, an unexpected carpool run or just the exhaustion that follows a hectic day. When you work out in the morning, something else might have to give when the unexpected comes up later on, but not your commitment to your health. 

4. Be flexible. Some days, you can carve out 30 dedicated minutes for a vigorous workout at the gym. Other days, a couple of quick walks between meetings and kids' activities may be the best you can do. Understand that, and be flexible. Have a variety of exercise options up your sleeve to make the best of what each day offers. 

5. Multitask. Along with flexibility comes multitasking. When there are too many to-do's on your list, find ways to combine them with activity. This afternoon I walked the dogs to school to pick up the kids, because it finally stopped raining – and that's what worked today.

6. Call on your village. If you have a two-parent household, divide and conquer: On Mondays and Wednesdays, you get an hour for exercise while your partner watches the kids; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you switch. If you're a single parent, trade time with another busy parent at work or in your neighborhood. Sometimes, it takes a village to maintain an exercise program.

7. Be active when your kids are active. All that time you spend sitting in the bleachers when your kids are at soccer practice? You could be walking around the track. At half time during their games, walk out to your car and back a couple of times. Be a more active spectator.

8. Be active with your kids. If your kids are old enough, encourage them to go for a walk, run or bike ride with you. If they're too young to keep up, push them in a stroller, tow them in a trailer, or let them ride a bike alongside you. Many health clubs offer discounts on family memberships, as well as childcare for toddlers. 

9. Plan weekend family activities. Organize something fun and active for the whole family on weekends: a neighborhood walk, a nature hike, a day of skiing or a badminton match in the yard. So it's raining? Grab your umbrellas and go – or clear a space in the living room and challenge everyone to a jump-rope contest or a silly-dance competition. Trust me – kids love to see their dads doing silly dances.

10. Work in some walks at work. Climb a few flights of stairs on your break. Walk or pace when you're on the phone. Suggest walking meetings. Walk to a park for lunch. Get a pedometer and you'll quickly find other ways to log miles before, during and after work.

11. Make it a habit. Fitting in some daily exercise may not feel natural at first. You may question its value or struggle to stay motivated. But don't give up. If you can commit to it and stick with it for two or three weeks, you'll start to notice a change – slowly but surely, exercise will become a habit. You might even look forward to it.

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