Parenting requires a huge amount of time, effort and energy. Whether you’ve recently welcomed a newborn, you’re running around after a toddler, or you’re preparing to navigate the pre-teen or teenage years, being a parent is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year commitment. When you’re busy and you’re putting all your strength into raising happy children, it’s easy to lose track of your own health and well-being. To be the best parent, you need to look after yourself. In this guide, we’ve outlined some simple, actionable strategies you can use to prioritize your health as a parent.
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Make time for exercise
Exercise is one of the most effective and potent natural health boosters. Many of us are aware of the physical effects of regular exercise. This includes a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. But did you know that increasing your activity levels can also boost your mental health? Studies show that active people are less likely to experience signs and symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Exercising can also make you feel good and elevate your energy levels. When you move your body, it releases endorphins. Endorphins are also known as happy hormones. And the levels of serotonin and dopamine in your brain rise as well.
Experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. This may seem like a lot, but you don’t have to go to the gym or go jogging every day to hit this target. Moderate exercise covers everything from going for a walk, swimming, to playing tennis. Taking a yoga or spin class counts as well. Or maybe your prefer hiking, cycling, or jumping in the backyard on a trampoline. If you’re a new mom, try to fit in bursts of activity whenever you have time is key. You could take your baby for a long walk every afternoon, or do a quick home workout while they sleep. As your kids get older, you can include group activities. These could include bike rides, swim sessions, and playing games together at the park or the beach.
Research suggests that around a quarter of adults are inactive. If you don’t exercise regularly, try to increase your activity levels gradually. Schedule 30 minutes every day for a brisk walk. Start cycling to work. Or, go to class two or three times a week. It’s a great idea to use an activity tracker. Wearable devices give you an accurate idea of how active you are and they can help to motivate you to move more. If you’re starting at 3,000 steps per day, aim for 4,000. Then, increase your daily step count as you get fitter. Try different sports and activities. Encourage your other half, friends, or family members to join and make exercise part of your daily routine.
Keep up with tests, checks and screening
Moms and dads are usually brilliant at scheduling appointments and responding to letters, emails or messages encouraging parents to take their kids for routine tests and checks. Unfortunately, many prioritize the health of their children over their own health. This often results in falling behind with screening checks and assessments. Attending appointments can help to lower the risk of health problems and ensure that any suspicious or worrying signs are identified as early as possible.
If you haven’t been to the dentist for years, you’ve missed the last few eye appointments, or you’re behind with routine cancer screening, now is the time to make some calls. It’s also beneficial to keep an eye on your blood pressure and your BMI (body mass index). High blood pressure is common. But there are often no clear signs. Get your blood pressure checked regularly and use online calculators to monitor your BMI. All you need to get a reading is your height and weight.
Understand the importance of nutrition
When you have a hectic schedule and you’re looking after kids, it can be challenging to keep up with a healthy eating plan. Many parents find that they don’t have time to cook every night and they end up ordering take-out food or eating on the go. When you think about your diet, always try to prioritize nutrition. Your body needs fuel and it relies on getting nutrients, vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat. It’s easy to focus on weight, especially after giving birth. But try to concentrate on healthy eating. The best way to lose weight healthily and sustainably is to combine eating well with exercising regularly.
Life as a parent is busy and most people don’t have hours to spare every afternoon or evening to rustle up a homemade feast. The good news is that there are lots of easy ways to save time while encouraging healthy eating for the whole family. Examples include batch cooking, meal preparation and following quick, simple recipes. Search online for 15 or 30-minute meals or cook dishes to freeze and enjoy later in the week. It’s also beneficial to plan ahead where possible if you tend to grab something on the go at work or graze all day at your desk. Once the kids are in bed, make a sandwich, salad or wrap or cook a quick fresh pasta dish you can store in the fridge for lunch the next day.
To find out more about nutrition, it’s helpful to analyze your diet. Keep a food diary or use an app to get an insight into how healthy your diet is. If you have an app, you can enter all the foods you’ve eaten in a day and add portion or serving sizes. Your app will then show you nutritional information related to that period. You’ll be able to see how many calories you’ve consumed, check your vitamin and mineral intake and see how you’ve done in terms of hitting daily targets for fiber and protein. You may be surprised at what you see when you open your app. Perhaps you’re consuming far more calories than you thought, your intake of sugar or salt is too high, or your diet is lacking in iron or fiber, for example. Once you have the information, modify your diet to boost nutrition.
Seek advice if things aren’t right
If you feel unwell, things don’t feel right, or you’ve noticed changes in your physical or mental health, it’s essential to seek advice. Many of us try to ignore symptoms or bury our heads in the sand. Often, minor ailments will subside, heal or disappear without the need for treatment or intervention, but there is a risk that more severe or long-term conditions could get worse. There are several reasons why people experience changes in their health, including underlying conditions, stress, hormonal changes or imbalances, lifestyle choices and the development of diseases and infections. If you have abnormal symptoms, your health deteriorates quickly, or you feel unwell for a prolonged period, reach out.
If you’re showing signs of underlying health problems, doctors may recommend undergoing tests and checks, such as blood and urine tests and scans. Health experts will analyze the results and then recommend treatments. Hormonal problems are common, particularly in women, as the body goes through major changes during pregnancy and childbirth, breastfeeding and menopause. If you feel out of sorts after having children, or you’re in your 40s or 50s and you start to experience symptoms you’re not used to, doctors may advise you to consider hormone therapy. Hormone replacement therapy can help to reduce the severity of symptoms associated with decreased levels of hormones during perimenopause and menopause. Therapies can also be beneficial for individuals who have low hormone levels or imbalances as a result of aging or health issues.
Establish a sleep routine
Most parents put a lot of effort into encouraging their kids to get into a routine at night. It’s helpful for children to have a sleep routine, but it’s also beneficial for adults to adopt positive sleep behaviors. As your children get older and they start to sleep through the night, establish your own routine. This will help to ensure that you get enough rest. Set a daily bedtime and try to get up at a similar time each day. Take 30 or 60 minutes every evening to do something that relaxes you or makes you feel calm and avoid anything that could cause stress. Don’t check emails late at night or start scrolling through social media as soon as you get into bed. Read, listen to music, watch TV or run a bath and then go to bed. It’s difficult to sleep with babies as they wake frequently to feed, but as kids get older, it’s essential to make sure that you’re getting the rest you need at night. For new parents, it’s helpful to try to sleep when your baby is napping and to ask for help from family members and friends.
Take steps to protect your mental health
We usually zone in on the body when we talk about health, but your mind is equally important. Mental health should be a focal point for all of us. Try to take steps to protect your mental well-being. Identify and limit exposure to stress triggers, give yourself time to rest and recover, make time for hobbies and activities that make you feel good and exercise daily. Get out and about and enjoy the fresh air, socialize with friends and relatives and seek advice if you feel low, anxious or uneasy for long periods or your symptoms get worse.
Life as a parent is notoriously busy. It’s very easy to let your health fall by the wayside when you’re looking after children, but it’s crucial to take good care of yourself as well as your kids. Follow these steps to prioritize your health and protect and nourish your body and mind.
For more on this topic, check out the full Staying Healthy collection