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I exercise for the health benefits. I exercise to set an example for my children. But sanity is the main one.

I exercise for sanity.

There are lots of other reasons why I exercise too. I exercise for the health benefits. I exercise to set an example for my children. But sanity is the main one. Exercise is my self-care. It is my headspace. It is the thing that makes me a better mum and a more focused employee.

Julie Walking

I didn’t discover the true benefits of exercise until my early 30s. I’d ignored my increasing weight for a long time so started exercising at a time when I decided to improve my health. I paid attention to my diet, joined a running club and suddenly exercise was a part of my life. Nearly 10 years later, it still is. Sometimes we’re closer than others, but when I stop exercising regularly it affects every part of my life. I’m less productive at work, I have less patience with the children and I become a grumpy (maybe grumpier?!) sod. For all these reasons, I end up liking myself less – so it’s important that I exercise regularly.

The key for me is building it into everyday life. Making it part of my routine, making it a habit.

Walking instead of taking the car. Taking the stairs instead of the lift. Ditching that TV show in favour of a HIIT workout or yoga session. When a spare 30 or 60 minutes presents itself, using it to go for a run. Getting up at 6 am to fit in a workout before the kids wake. Life is about choices. There is always time for exercise if we choose it. But it’s not always easy and might mean sacrificing something else, like that Netflix session, or asking for help from our partner, friend, parents, in-laws etc. Asking them to look after the kids for 30 or 60 minutes can give you the chance to get your sweat on.

Some mums feel guilty taking time out from the children to exercise.

Knowing that the single biggest positive influence on girls in particular being involved in sport and exercise is if their mother is, surely demonstrating to our children that this is important to us is a good thing?

As a family, we like being active with and around the kids. We hike with them, climb with them, run with them and do yoga with them amongst other things. Getting them outside for some fresh air and some sunshine (and occasionally some rain) works wonders for their mood and their sleep, along with ours too. Our first love is the mountains and we take them camping when we can. The last few times we’ve gone it’s been fairly damp (read tipping it down!) but we’ve pulled on our waterproofs and gone for a walk in the rain. The kids love it and as long as we are conscious of their moods and limitations, we recognise when to turn back so that it doesn’t descend into pre-schooler meltdown.

Julie with her children

We also climb together at a nearby quarry. We’re lucky in that my husband has the knowledge and skills to safely set up ropes for us, and we’ve introduced friends and their kids to climbing this way too. It’s a physically and mentally challenging and they have a great sense of achievement at the end of the day. The kids are also now at an age where my husband and I can climb a route while they’re tucking into their picnic at the bottom of the route which truly makes it a family activity. Plus they get to giggle at mummy’s disco leg when I get a bit nervous about the next move!

When we can’t get outside, one of our fall-backs is to watch a YouTube kids yoga programme – we can all do it together, we can laugh at how inflexible daddy is (although he’s slowly improving!) and it helps to calm the kids when they’ve gotten a bit fractious. It’s also great for their balance and their gross motor skills.

Finally, my advice to mums (and anyone else) wanting to get active: routine is key. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” (attributed to Will Durrant). It takes time to build a habit so perseverance is key. Make a conscious choice to do it and timetable it into your day. You might need to set a timetable the night before, but planning for it will make it easier to follow through. Tell someone else about your plans and you’re probably even more likely to get off your butt. If you can, do it early so it doesn’t get pushed aside by other things. Set an example for your kids. Do it for your physical health. Do it for your mental health. But most of all, do it for you.