Staying fit as a sleep-deprived new parent

Graham Pembrey, Lead Editor, Health Content, Bupa UK
Head of Health Content at Bupa UK
05 March 2020
Next review due March 2023

In the lead up to a new arrival, lots of well-wishers will probably warn you to ‘sleep while you can’. But nothing can quite prepare you for the whirlwind of having a newborn baby in your life. The experience can be exciting, awe-inspiring and deeply fulfilling … but also deeply exhausting! In the months that follow the birth, eating well and exercising can really help you feel more on top of things, mentally and physically. But making time to keep active with a little one in your life can be a real struggle.

Admittedly, I’m not always the best example when it comes to keeping fit as a new parent. My little one is now three years old. I try to eat well, and make sure that my wife and I fit in time to relax, but a regular exercise routine has continued to elude me. I do go for lots of walks with my toddler, chase her around the playground and flex my arm muscles by lifting her lots. Do these things count?!

Realising that I probably needed to take some advice from others on this subject, I asked my colleagues who also have young ones for some tips and advice. They had some fantastic points which I hope you find as helpful as me. Here’s what they said …

Aamir: ‘If things don’t go to plan, it’s okay!’

“Try going for walks as a family. This doesn’t necessarily need to be in a country park. If you live in a city, shopping centres can be family-friendly too! It’s a good way for you to spend time together. The exercise will be good for you and will help you to de-stress.

“It’s important to plan when it comes to being active and sleeping. But if things don’t go according to plan, it’s equally important to remind yourself that this is okay and to try not to let it bother you.

“You don’t have to join a gym, exercising in small chunks is still useful. Working out at home is not only cheaper, but also allows you to fit in exercise when it’s convenient for you. There are also activities which you can do together with your little one. Baby yoga, Pilates and massage are some ways of staying active and may be offered by your local children’s centre for free or for a small cost.

“I also think it’s important to not forget mental fitness. Reassure yourself that you are doing a great job! Looking after a little one as well as yourself is not easy and can be challenging at the best of times. Make sure you’re planning to take time out for yourself and continue to do what motivates you. If you’re finding yourself in a particularly stressful moment with your newborn, try to take a deep breath and remind yourself that these stressful moments will pass. You’re doing a great job in caring for the newest addition to your family!”

Marcella: ‘A jogging stroller was a great investment’

“As a new mum finding time to exercise is a challenge. I found myself constantly busy until night time, and by then the thought of doing exercise would fill me with dread as I just wanted to slump on the sofa! I also quickly discovered that any form of exercise I did would need to fit into my daily routine when out and about with my new baby. So, I decided to purchase a jogging stroller. It was a great investment, as it gave me the freedom to jog with my baby in tow.

“With my new purchase I also joined a few buggyfit fitness classes in my local park with a bunch of other new mums. It was a really fun way of working out in the fresh air with the baby and helped me to feel fit and healthy again.”

Dan: ‘I took to sleeping in my exercise kit’

“Being a Personal Trainer and Health Adviser in previous lives, I have lots of tips and ideas – but it was a very different story when I found myself in this situation!

“My wife and I found that follow-along YouTube videos like HIIT or circuit sessions were a great way to exercise together. We both felt guilty/selfish leaving the other to exercise, so exercising together with the baby was the best solution! Now our little one is two, we still do a similar workout on the weekends, but now she joins us for some ‘essersize’.

“I also took to sleeping in my exercise kit for a while… the only time I could squeeze in a run or something were in the wee hours of the morning when baby and mum were sleeping. I could slide right out of bed and begin with no excuses for myself!”

Rebecca: ‘Couch to 5k was great’

“As a very new mum, I had a postpartum check by a women’s health physiotherapist and my GP to get approval for what a safe level of exercise would be for me. I found the NHS couch to 5k programme was great for getting back into running. Doing online or app-based workouts together with the kids is great fun. We take ours to our local parkrun with us and they really enjoy it.”

Nick: ‘I cycle to and from work’

“My main source of exercise is my cycle commute to and from work – a 16-mile round trip – which I used to do around four times per week. When I first went back to work after a couple of weeks’ paternity leave, I found this relatively easy to keep up. It helps that it’s built into the daily routine, rather than something I have to carve out time for.

“However, since my daughter started nursery a few months ago it’s been a bit more of a challenge. I pick her up from nursery twice a week, and combining this with the bike ride is a bit of a hassle. I end up having to do the last leg of the journey pushing a buggy in one hand and my bike in the other. That in itself is a weird and wonderful physical challenge! But it’s pretty much part of the routine now, so I think my physical activity levels are probably about the same as they were before fatherhood.”

Alice: ‘A dose of fresh air can be the best medicine’

“If you’re keen to stay fit as a new parent, many gyms and classes are happy for you to bring your baby along. Most of the time, I could complete a class with a sleeping baby in the corner! If they did wake up, I could feed and settle them before getting in a bit more exercise. It also did my mental health wonders to get out and do something for myself. My children are now two and five, and still come along to watch me work out sometimes. I also walked a lot with both my babies. It’s a great option if you need something a bit more gentle, either because you’re recovering from birth or you hardly slept the night before! A dose of fresh air can be the best medicine after a sleepless night.

“I would also say, don’t push yourself. The early days of being a parent, and not having much time or sleep, don’t last long (although it may feel like it at the time!). And before you know it, you will feel more human and have more energy and motivation to exercise regularly again.”

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Graham Pembrey, Lead Editor, Health Content, Bupa UK
Graham Pembrey (he/him)
Head of Health Content at Bupa UK

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