On National Women’s Health & Fitness Day, Choose to Put Yourself First

National Women’s Health & Fitness day is observed on the last Wednesday in September, focusing attention on the importance of regular physical activity and health awareness for women. But never before have women – especially those with children at home – been in circumstances like these. Many moms focus so much on schooling, feeding, and entertaining their children that they forget to properly take care of themselves. Martha Mistretta, owner of Evolve Cycle and Fitness in Caldwell, NJ and mother of two young daughters, shares her tips to stay healthy, fit, and active.

Refocus on Your Nutrition

“I personally lost a lot of motivation during COVID. Having my husband and my kids at home really changed my balance. I found that honing in on the quality of my nutrition really helped. I went vegan for a little while to give my digestive system a break. I was not focusing on counting macros or calories, or weighing my food, and I didn’t need to lose weight. I just focused on eating good, quality whole foods to make myself feel good and to ensure I had enough energy. I don’t eat anything packaged; it’s all real food. When I go out I will have bread, but I make sure it’s worth it. If I’m having a cookie, it’s going to be homemade, not out of a box.”

Eat Mindfully, and Make Sure Your Kids Do, Too

“So many people today don’t know what hunger is and don’t know how to stop eating when they’re full. Pay attention to what and where you eat. Don’t eat in front of the computer, don’t eat standing up and don’t eat off your kids’ plates. Make your food and then sit down at the table. I make sure that when I’m eating, I’m only eating, and that’s a really important life habit for kids to see. Food is fuel, and when we are fueling our bodies, we need to pay attention.

When my kid wants a snack, I always ask if she’s really hungry, or if she’s just tired or bored. If she’s hungry, she can have a snack, but in a proper portion size. We don’t eat out of bags or containers, instead we fill a snack cup with grapes or Goldfish. More often than not, they’re on to the next thing before they finish it, but if I’d given them the bag, they’d have eaten the whole thing. Lastly, instead of using food as a reward – for example, ‘Give me 15 minutes and you can have a cookie’ – use an activity. ‘Give me 15 minutes and then we can go for a bike ride.’”

“Intermittent Workouts” Work, Too

“Some days you just don’t have time to carve out a big block of time for a long workout. At least twice a week, I do small, sectional workouts all day. When I have a private training client, I’ll do five minutes of stretch with them. If I’m teaching an online HIIT, I’ll do 10 minutes of movements with them, or I’ll do five or 10 minutes between clients. By the end of the day, I’ve compiled an hour of activity. Most every day, women can find the time to squeeze in a few 10 minute blocks of activity.”

Functional Movements Are Most Important

If you are not a big exerciser, the most important things to focus on are squatting and pressing. These movements mimic things we do all day; standing up and sitting down and putting things away in cabinets over our heads. So, do air squats, or simply sit down and stand up from a chair. You can overhead press with household items like bottles of laundry detergent or water jugs, or you could do thrusters – a combined squat to press – while holding your baby. Exercising the core is also super important, and plank holds are one of the safest and most effective ways to build core strength.”

Carve Out Some Designated You Time

“Twice a week, I do a 30-minute, higher-intensity, CrossFit-style workout while someone else watches my girls. I like to work out with someone who pushes me so I can get the most out of it. I used to do this much more often, but nowadays, twice a week is all I can manage, and I have to be okay with that. If you have to stick your kids in front of the TV or the iPad just so you can have some me time, do it and don’t feel guilty about it. You’ll be a better mom if you take some time to refocus and re-energize, and your kids also need time to just be with themselves. Let them use their imaginations for a bit. And believe me, there are days when I think I’m going to use that time to exercise, and instead I lay down and take a nap. And that is just fine, too.”

Include Your Children in Exercise

“Once or twice a week, I do something active with my kids. During the summer, we would set up obstacle courses in the yard and race each other. Now that it’s getting chilly, we go on walks and stop every block and do squats or jumping jacks. Your kids emulate you, and if you include them and they see you moving, they’ll want to move, too.”

Chores Count

“As a busy, working mom, I also allow myself to count chores as a workout. Once a week, when I do a bunch of loads of laundry, I’ll run up the stairs, put all the shirts away, then come back down for the pants, the socks, the towels. Once I’ve put everything away, I’ve gone up and down the stairs 20 times. You have to get it in where you can and give yourself credit for it.”