Working Fathers Need to Exercise
Combat stress and find time for fitness
Russell Clayton, Ph.D :
As a working father, like many of you, I pride myself on being available and spending time with my children when I'm not at work. And why shouldn't we want to be involved with our kids? After all, research tells us that being an involved father leads to many positive effects for our children, such as being healthier, performing better in school, and having a more positive self-image.
So with that in mind, I woke up this past Saturday morning and went straight to the gym for an exercise class instead of spending that non-work morning with my children. You may be thinking to yourself, "Why would he waste that precious Saturday morning time like that instead of being with his kids?"
Here's why: working fathers, who also seek to be involved with their children, are experiencing high rates of stress and burnout. Working fathers of today are becoming increasingly more engaged in childcare and household responsibilities as compared to prior generations of fathers. This is all in addition to working demanding jobs. And we're beginning to see working fathers "susceptible to the 'putting everyone else first' challenge of modern working-parenthood," that many working mothers have felt for years. My hour-long exercise class on Saturday morning helps me combat that stress and makes me a better father for the rest of that day and into the next week. Here's how:
1. Exercise decreases stress. We've known for years that exercise helps us reduce stress. Exercise causes our bodies to release endorphins to help with stress. Exercise can also assist us via the distraction hypothesis - offering us a distraction from the stressors in our lives. Let's face it: being a parent can be stressful, so taking steps to proactively reduce stress is a good thing.
2. Exercise increases our self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a "can do" attitude that allows us to persevere through less-than-ideal circumstances. A study I conducted shows that exercise increases our self-efficacy and helps us manage the demands of home and work. Parenting is stressful at times, and it can also throw challenges our way. Building that sense of "can do" through exercise can spill over into other areas of life and help us meet challenges head-on.
3. Exercise causes us to have increased stamina. When I exercise on a regular basis, I am better at playing with my kids because I don't tire out as easily. My level of exercise is not going to get me in the same shape as an NFL linebacker. That said, the energy I get from even moderate exercise and being (somewhat) in shape allows me to have more endurance during playtime with my kids.
If what I've said is enough to convince you to start exercising, here are a couple of practical tips:
Start slow. Don't feel like you have to go from nothing to running a full marathon in one week. You'll burnout that way and likely want to quit exercising altogether. Perhaps start with the popular Couch to 5K running program and ease into it. Try and avoid doing too much, too quick.
Find an exercise you enjoy. If you don't like running, don't run. Buy a speed jump rope and get after it in your garage or join a gym and pump some iron. I've found that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great exercise for me because it is short in duration and burns a lot of calories. I have also found that a brisk 20-minute walk is a great way to sneak exercise into my day.
So working fathers, be just a bit selfish, take some "me time" and go exercise. The time you spend exercising will pay off in your relationship with your children.
(Russell Clayton, Ph.D., is an instructor in the Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida and the author of Balancing Life: Seven Strategies That Can Help You Achieve Work-Life Balance).