Working from home has many positive sides, especially if you’re a parent. But one of the drawbacks is that you can become a lot less active.
You’d have thought it would be easier to fit in an exercise routine when your time is your own, but it’s not always that easy. For me, there is a need to prove to the world that I work just as hard as everyone who's in an office all day, so I always feel guilty for taking any kind of break.
On top of that, it’s amazing the difference not having a daily commute has made to my fitness. The short walk from my flat to the train station, the train station to the office and then back again at the end of the day, all added up to a decent amount of walking.
But when you’re at home, the furthest you walk is to the kitchen to make your lunch and it can be so easy to spend all day sat behind your laptop… before you know it, it’s 4 o’clock and time to collect the baby from nursery – which you do by car to save time. Well, I do anyway!
I’ve been through a few exercise ‘fads’ since becoming a freelancer and have always enjoyed the benefit of getting out of the house and blowing away the cobwebs. Couch to 5k is a favourite of mine and something I plan to go back to next year, while the Wii Fit suited me because it removed the excuse of ‘oh, but it’s too cold outside’.
So, why can’t I follow these keep fit routines consistently?
The truth is, there’s always something that gets in the way. It’s part and parcel of being a working parent, life is busy and you have no control over what happens with your child from one week to the next.
Illness crops up, or a bad night’s sleep. You’ll have an appointment to go to or some housework that needs doing. Even on your busiest of weeks, the children have to come first - that’s just the way it is.
Then there’s work. As a freelancer, it’s easy to ‘over-service’ a client because you want to do a good job. You set yourself stringent hours to follow, but sometimes something unplanned comes up that you need to get done there and then. Again, exercise has to take a back foot.
For that reason, I’ve never been able to justify the cost of signing up for a gym. I worry I’ll be paying all that money every month, but won’t ever be able to make the most of the membership.
So, when I was offered the chance to try out Pudsey Leisure Centre’s facilities for free for a month I jumped at it.
Would I be able to change my routine enough to fit in exercise, or would I end up realising I was right all along and, while I’m a parent of young children, it’s just not worth it?
I turned up in my jeans and t-shirt, expecting just to be shown the different machines. But the staff member I met was really friendly and spent more time with me than I imagined. We chatted while I had a go on everything and got to know how to use the equipment.
Helpfully, he also created a plan for me to follow every time I visited. It can be so daunting going to the gym for the first time, wanting to do a work-out that makes a difference but not wanting to push yourself so much, so having this was a great starting point.
I decided to go twice a week to begin with, perhaps once in the gym and once in the swimming pool because the membership here covers both, as well as giving you access to all the classes they have to offer.
I returned the next day in better attire and got straight to work on the treadmill. ‘I’ll just have ten minutes walking on here, don’t want to push myself on the first go’, I said – only to find it was really easy going and I went a little faster and for a little longer than planned. Go me!
I followed that up with some time on the bike and rowing machine and even a short go on the cross trainer – I do not like the cross trainer!
The whole trip to the gym made me feel good: I was happy to be out of the house and happy to not be looking at my computer or phone screen for an hour. It was the one time that week I was truly doing something for myself and it was nice to put work on the back burner for a bit.
Plans to head back for another session went out of the window when I found I hadn’t done as much work as I wanted to. Immediately, I felt like the couple of hours I’d spent at the gym were to blame, even though they weren’t.
Mum guilt kicked in, so I stayed at home and got through my to-do list.
I did manage a session on the final day of the week, though.
My son, who’s almost three, goes to nursery for four days a week, but I’ve always insisted on us having a ‘Harry and Mummy day’ on Friday. I assumed this would mean no time for working out – but actually it ended up 'working out' quite well going up to the gym once my partner, Luke, got back from work.
It was great to give myself a bit of a break from parenting ahead of having a full weekend with him. I love my son, he is my favourite person in the world, but he’s also an absolute arse sometimes so giving my head a break was beneficial.
I didn’t manage to go earlier in the week as I planned, work was so busy and I felt like the house was a mess. By the time I'd worked out my to-do list, my day was full with no room for more. I started to wonder if it really is possible to balance it all – work, family, home... and health?
But, I was also conscious the pressure I was putting on myself to do it all would not be worth it. Exercise can be so good for your mental health, but not if you’re making yourself feel bad for doing it.
For my own peace of mind, I resolved to focus on work and the worst parts of the house (the mountain of washing that I was struggling to get dry because we turned the heating off the week before), and let myself off the gym hook.
Having got down my list… well, mostly… I nipped to the leisure centre for a short session and was so glad I did. Clare, who arranged my free pass, was there and we had a little catch up, which cheered me up no end.
It’s another drawback of working from home – some days the lack of human interaction can make you very lonely. So, being able to go up to a community space where you know you’ll be welcomed is a good thing and made me want to keep coming back.
Claire and I had a laugh because I came out in a top that was stained from the bolognaise I’d had at lunch. Only a little bit, but it was almost enough to make me not want come out at all – it's amazing how many different silly excuses I came out with over these four weeks.
On Monday, Harry came home from nursery with a funny tummy and we were subjected to the dreaded 48-hour rule. ‘No problem’, thought I, ‘I’ll just pop on a film and get some work done while he watches that’. Yeah, right.
Tuesday morning rolled round and Luke was ill too, so I had both of them to look after. I decided to focus on the ‘absolutely must be done’ tasks for work, balancing Harry on one knee while I did them.
Come Wednesday I was shattered. Harry was fine in himself, running amok and causing chaos, but his nappies were still not back to normal and I realised I was going to have to keep him home for another day.
By Thursday, it had all become too much, I was behind with my work and I couldn't get any of it done with a toddler tearing round the house.
I bemoaned the crappy 48-hour rule, I bemoaned the fact that being the Mum meant I was the one who had to miss out on work. I bemoaned the fact I’d been so rushed off my feet I was now feeling ill myself.
To be honest, that week was so rough, the thought of going to the gym barely crossed my mind. I’m a firm believer in self-care, but when family life hits a hiccup like this, something has to give.
By the following week I had a back log of work that really needed to be finished and, having hit a low point with my mental health, on the Thursday I put all thoughts of exercise to one side. I needed to focus on removing the things that were causing me stress and then going back to square one with my routine.
That month, I truly felt the benefits from getting out and exercising and I’m sure I’ll get back on it again one day. But, I’ve also realised that we working parents have enough going on and adding the pressure of trying to get fit or lose weight is just one too many.
That said, the membership prices at Pudsey Leisure Centre are reasonable. You can use the membership card at other centres too, so it’s easy to fit the Active Leeds lifestyle into your own. At £25 a month, just one visit a week means you’re getting your money back.
I know what I needed was a boost to get me going, so I’m excited to be able to offer my followers that same kick up the bum today. For those of you based in Leeds, Clare Brooke is able to offer a seven-day pass for free. Just give her a call on: 0113 336 7686
Give me a shout if you do go up – I’ll pop along and keep you company if you like… assuming we haven’t been hit by some kind of family lurgy again!