“Be Healthy” is one of my Six Simple Rules and this post is about exercise, a critical component of being healthy. Many people find it challenging to fit in time for exercise. When I hear them say they don’t have the time, I tell them that they are not making the time — that they need to make exercise a priority. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s the case with everything we do — we choose what we spend our time doing and if exercise is a priority, as it should be for everyone, we need to put it on our calendar before anything else. In my book, as in prior blog posts, such as this one, I suggest starting slowly and building up your exercise routine over time so as not to get overwhelmed and give up before you really get going, as so many people do every year in January.
The following is a guest post by Jonathan Singer. Jon’s daughter, Rebecca, now 15, was born with a rare genetic disorder. She doesn’t talk and, much like a baby, someone needs to watch her at all times to be sure she doesn’t get herself into trouble. Rebecca attends school at REED Academy, where Jon and his wife, Michey, were part of the group of founding parents, and where amazing things are happening for children with autism. This post is excerpted from Jon’s important book, The Special Needs Parent Handbook: Critical Strategies and Practical Advice to Help You Survive and Thrive. If you are a parent of a child with autism or other special needs, buy Jon’s book. If you know someone who is the parent of such a child, buy the book for them. And no matter who you are, read Jon’s post, as its message about making the time to exercise applies to everyone.
When you are taking care of individuals with special needs, sometimes you feel beaten down and just run out of steam. This life can beat you down, and it can destroy your marriage and your relationships, if you are not careful and don’t take care of yourself. The good news is there are things we can do to survive and even thrive in spite of all of the challenges and hardships we face each day.
It is vital — I repeat, VITAL — that you take care of yourself and make sure you are in the best possible health physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.
To make it through each day, you first need to determine how to take care of yourself. It is often hard to focus on yourself when you have to take care of someone with special needs (and maybe typically developing children as well) while dealing with all of the day-to-day responsibilities both inside and outside your home. But you must.
Getting off Your Lazy Butt — Just get a little exercise
OK, so maybe it’s not laziness. You are truly wiped out and don’t have one ounce of energy left. You need that pint of Ben & Jerry’s to make you feel better after getting yelled at by your spouse while one child was having a tantrum and your other child was misbehaving. Basically everything that can possibly go wrong has gone wrong.
You also may feel that you don’t have the time to exercise between taking care of your kids, going to work, and attending to never-ending household chores and other commitments. Not to mention that your strength is sapped by the occasional emergency visits to doctors and hospitals, running to school to pick up your kids when they think something is wrong, or when something is really wrong, and being woken up frequently during the night. I know all about these things from personal experience, but I have made exercise one of my top priorities.
No matter how busy you are, how stressful life feels at the moment, and how impossible it seems to fit it in, if you don’t figure out how to get some exercise you will only make your situation more difficult as time goes by. In the words of a wise older gentleman whom I used to see all the time riding his bicycle when we lived in New York City, “you have to make the time to take the time.” It really doesn’t matter what you do; what is important is that you do some type of exercise to increase your heart rate and strength and that you make it part of your routine.
I have made a concerted effort to combine exercise and spending time with Rebecca for example, by taking long walks together, running with her in her Baby Jogger — or now in her larger Independence Push Chair — or pulling her behind my bicycle in a bike trailer. All of these activities help me stay physically active while I’m enjoying quality time with my daughter.
And because I have gotten into the habit of exercising nearly every day, at 47 years old I am probably in the best shape of my life, despite the fact that I love to eat. I only started running a few years ago and now I run half marathons, swim a mile at a time, bike long distances, and have completed two triathlons. Earlier in my life, the only time you might see me run was if someone was chasing me.
Staying in shape can work miracles for you psychologically and emotionally. And it will help your child, because you will be a better caregiver. If I don’t stay in shape, Rebecca will become too much for me to handle. She reminds me of Steve Austin in The Six Million Dollar Man — she is getting bigger, faster and stronger — and I have to keep up. I have often read about how much of an impact stress can have on your life, and at times the stress levels in our lives are off the charts. I am certain that all of my exercise helps to counter the negative effects of stress in my life, and helps me get an escape and handle everything much better than if I didn’t work out.
I do a lot of exercise — much more than almost anyone I know. Don’t be intimidated and feel you need to do what I do. Just do something you enjoy a few days a week and gradually increase your level of activity. Anything is better than nothing.
Take Time for Your Health — Or make time for illness
The bottom line is that we need to exercise and take care of our health if we want to be strong for, and enjoy time with, our kids with special needs and our typically developing children. Staying fit is important for anyone, but it is particularly vital for families with children with special needs, given all of the pressures we are constantly under and the strength we need to deal with all of the psychological and physical demands on our lives.
I once saw a sign in a doctors’ office that really stuck with me: “Those who don’t make time for health will have to make time for illness.” While we can come up with all sorts of excuses why we are unable to exercise, such as lack of time, if you get really sick and are laid up in a hospital bed, all of a sudden you will have all the time in the world but won’t be able to do much. Wouldn’t it be better to spend that time now making yourself healthier and having fun with your friends and family, and then to have more time down the road to do things you really enjoy? Think about it; you can make the choice. Put down that bag of chips, and get off your butt and exercise. When you are finished, sit down and relax, and reward yourself with a healthy snack (and some Ben & Jerry’s).
We’ll have more posts from Jon in the future. For now, join the conversation. How do you fit in exercise?