Between a job and supervising children, getting dinner, doing laundry, helping with homework, and chauffeuring the kids to Scouts, sports practices or music lessons, it’s not surprising many working moms say they have trouble finding time to fit exercise into their lives.
For Darcy Sementi of Tuscola, the way to do so is by getting up and driving to Champaign in time for a 5:45 a.m. exercise class at the Mettler Center, five days a week.
Sementi is the mother of two children, ages 13 and 11. She’s been making those early morning exercise classes for the past five years.
“Driving from Tuscola into Champaign for work, I had limited time with my children before school anyway, because I had to get to work,” Sementi said. “I felt selfish not being there for my children in the morning. We’re always telling women, if you take care of yourself, you can take care of others better. It seems so counterintuitive to women, but it really is true.”
Sementi says her exercise routine pays off not just by keeping her in good physical shape, but also in improving her energy level, her patience and her general demeanor during the day.
“What I thought would be a sacrifice has turned into an incredible benefit to everyone,” she said. “I know it has a huge impact.”
The key to her being able to exercise every morning is her husband, who makes sure their children are ready for school. She said a group exercise class eliminates bad weather as an excuse not to work out, and exercising with others provides camaraderie and accountability.
Sementi’s advice for fitting an exercise routine into a busy schedule will be helping other area women. She provided suggestions through a study called CHAMP, or Creating Healthy Active Moms Project, being done by Emily Mailey, a UI doctoral student in exercise psychology.
Mailey is looking at ways to help working mothers who want to exercise but are finding it difficult to do so. Her study involves providing two workshops to women that focus on setting exercise goals and coming up with strategies to meet those goals. The women talk about the barriers they face in trying to exercise.
“Invariably, (lack of) time is number one,” Mailey said.
She talks with them about broadening their definition of exercise.
“It doesn’t have to mean going to the gym for an hour a day,” she said. “We talk about the little things you can do at home, things you can do with your kids.”
For example: being more actively involved in play with the kids at the park or in the backyard; holding Wii Fit competitions at home; or using the time waiting for a child at soccer practice to walk the fields with other moms.
Mailey is also collecting data on the physical activity of the study’s participants at three different times, as well as asking them about stress, fatigue and overall quality of life, “to see if they do increase physical activity, whether it translates to psychological benefits.”
The key is fitting activity into moms’ existing schedules. The study’s participants are asked to set short- and long-term fitness goals, then schedule exercise time into their calendars.
“If you don’t plan it, when you’re that busy, it’s not going to happen,” Mailey said.
Mindy Heaton of Mahomet, one of the participants in Mailey’s study, said that was one of the best tips she’s received.
“It seems obvious, but I wasn’t doing it,” Heaton said. Now her workouts are on her Blackberry, Google calendar and a white board at home.
“If my almighty Blackberry tells me to do it, I do!” she said.
She has all the exercise equipment she needs at home — treadmill, elliptical machine, weights, resistance bands — but she still had difficulty finding time to use it, between her job, caring for a 7-year-old daughter and a son who just turned 5, and serving as an area service manager and troop leader for Girl Scouts.
She’s now taking the time to walk with a co-worker during the day and to exercise at home while her children play in the next room. She’s buying a bike with her tax refund and plans to make biking a new family activity.
Ann Haluzak of Tolono, another study participant and the mother of a 7-year-old, exercised inconsistently. She walked with a friend or did yoga or cardio workouts with a DVD at home, along with some calesthenics and weight training.
But often, “the day gets away from you and next thing you know it’s 9 p.m.,” she said. “If you try to work out, then you won’t get to sleep.”
She’s made a commitment to get up early and exercise in the morning. The accountability of having to record her activity for the study is helping her stick with it.
“That for me is the biggest motivator,” Haluzak said. “I can’t face a blank journal. I don’t want to hand it in.”
By the time the study ends, she’s hoping she’ll have established a habit.
University of Illinois doctoral student Emily Mailey is looking for more participants for her CHAMP (Creating Health Active Moms Project) study.
Participants should be working mothers between the ages of 25 and 50, with at least one child under the age of 14 living at home, and who work at least 30 hours per week. They should also not currently be meeting the recommended level for physical activity, which is 150 minutes per week, or 30 minutes per day, five days a week.
Anyone interested in participating can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (217) 244-4510.
Child care is offered during the study’s workshops.