Who Needs a Gym When You Have a Toddler?

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Tunnel fun and P and I bustin' a move.

Tunnel fun and P and I bustin’ a move.

In mommy circles everywhere, I hear the same complaint: “I don’t have time to work out!” Because I don’t like to give unsolicited advice to adults, I usually keep my lips sealed when I hear this. But, I always wonder:

“You have a kid, right?” “They like to play?”

In the months following P’s birth, I’ve gotten into the best shape of my life. My secret: play time. Maybe it’s because I’m a kid at heart (26 going on 6, according to my husband), but I look forward to active, evening, play sessions with P. She thinks it’s a riot when I shimmy my way through her play tunnel. She particularly enjoys what Chad and I call “Baby Relay,” where one of us picks her up, runs halfway around the house, and then passes her off (baton style) to the other parent. After a few laps, P is squealing in delight, and we’re usually laughing, too. And, of course, we dance. To the average person, I am probably a horrific, cliché of a dancer, but I don’t care. P and I have been dancing together since she was just a few days old. In fact, I’m pretty sure there is a video out there of a 10-week-old P and I “Gettin’ Jiggy with it.” Every evening, we turn on one of the music channels on our television (usually “Pop Hits” or “90s”), and let loose for 10 to 20 minutes.

Some of our other activities include: playing “chase,” climbing and running at our neighborhood tot lot, playing “leap frog” (given P’s immature gross motor skills and coordination, I play the role of frog), going for after-dinner strolls around our neighborhood, and playing “airplane,” which is getting increasingly difficult with a now 22 pound P.

Some of you may be thinking, “Yeah, that’s great, but I’m tired.” Or, “I have too much else to do.” Both are completely valid points, to which my responses are: you don’t need to play every day; you can play for as little or as long as you are able, whether it is five minutes or 45 minutes. Any amount of physical activity is good, right? I will freely admit there are days when my body aches, and I’ve fought to keep my eyes open. On days like this, I usually manage a short, 10-15 minute active play session, but not always. In regard to the time issue, I get it. If household clutter and dirty dishes make you crazy, then I see why you would forgo play time. For me, if the laundry isn’t finished, or the kitchen counters aren’t clean every day of the week, I can deal with it. I prefer to play!

I often joke with friends that having a child is the best exercise/diet program you could ever be on (albeit an expensive one with an initial 20-35+ pound weight gain): carrying the child around, chasing the child, cleaning up after the child, the child not letting you eat anything by yourself, etc. I can picture the infomercial now:

“Are you disappointed with the number on the scale?” (Camera pans to sad-faced, sighing mom.)

“Are you tired of struggling to button your jeans?” 

“Do you long for lean, toned, upper arms?” (Camera pans to mom looking longingly at an athletic woman’s arms.)

“Then, have a baby!”

“With a baby, you’ll always be on the move, have limited opportunities to eat, and have ample opportunities for weight training. You will be sure to feel the burn while carrying a 5-10+ pound baby around for hours each day!”

“Have a baby and watch the pounds melt away!”

All silliness aside, with a little creativity, and a few minutes each day, even the busiest mom can squeeze in a play time workout!

Kristi Blust

Mama and wife first, preschool psychologist second, and hopeful writer/blogger the rest of the time. You can read more of Kristi's work on her personal blog, cminusmama.com


  1. The 90s music channel is a favorite of ours too! Every night after dinner my 2 year old grabs my hand, pulls me into the living room, and says “dance mama”. We have a great time dancing to what I’m sure she’ll consider the “oldies” station someday, and just being silly. Another thing I do with her to add to my toddler workout is airplane – where I hoist all 26 lbs of her up on both legs and pump, it’s like having a leg press with a really cute weight :)

  2. I love the positive message in your article. Our little critters make excellent sources for weight and cardio training – once they are big enough of course… There is no doubt we are tired, but there is hope. There are also a bunch of apps for the Iphone – 7 minute workouts that actually burn!

  3. Danielle, glad others appreciate the 90s music era as much as I do! I agree, airplane can be challenging with the tots, but you’re right, our babes make cute weights! Thanks for reading! Dana, I didn’t know about the 7 minute workouts. I’ll have to check them out!

  4. My little ones are great for a work out. Of course I had this bad habit of carrying my son on the same arm all the time. That arm was all toned up and the other one looked a little whimpy.

  5. Yeah, I learned early on to do the switch about every ten minutes. My arms were like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hide.. Thanks for reading, Nicole!

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