by Amanda Sterczyk, MA, CPT

Image: Miikka H, Flickr

“Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have”

-Parker Palmer


When our kids were little, I discovered a key difference in my husband’s and my parenting styles. I like to call this difference, “You First versus Me First”. It first became apparent to me in the kitchen: I always fed our children first, then myself. My husband, though, always fed himself first before feeding the screaming kids.

Was he immune to those screams? I certainly wasn’t, and I wanted the screaming to stop. Whatever was causing the screaming needed to be addressed. Right away. 

My husband’s “Me First” behaviour extended to many facets of daily life. He got up every morning at 6:00 am and headed to the gym for his daily one-hour workout. That never changed for him. In our life BC (Before Children), I went too. But, breastfeeding and caring for a newborn took precedence over my morning exercise routine. 

Now that the kids are older, he still heads to the gym every day at 6:00 am. I also get up at 6:00, but my morning is vastly different: I get breakfasts and lunches sorted out, get the kids up for school, and drive them to school if needed. My workout doesn’t always happen; if it does, it’s squeezed in between other family commitments.

I once remarked on this difference to a friend. Her response? “Of course, they put their needs first. That’s how men are wired. Women, on the other hand, are wired to take care of their own needs AFTER everyone else’s needs have been met.”

When you’re caring for loved ones, it’s easy to let your own needs take a back seat. There are, after all, only so many hours in a day. But what happens if you neglect your own health? Your body starts to break down – you get sick, you get injured, you get stressed out. And then, how can you care for others? You can’t. Upon reflection, I noticed that my husband didn’t get sick, stressed out, or injured as often as me.


When you’re travelling by plane, the in-flight safety briefing instructs passengers to don their own oxygen mask before they help others with theirs. You’re no good to anyone if you pass out. And the same goes for life on the ground. You need to be strong and healthy—for yourself and for your loved ones.  

One place I’ve seen women’s needs take a significant second place to their loved ones’ is physical activity. According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, behind high blood pressure, tobacco use, and high blood sugar. [link: http://www.who.int/topics/physical_activity/en/]

Physical inactivity is not the polar opposite of physical activity—it’s not an “all or nothing” endeavour. Physical activity lies on a continuum and much of what we do on a daily basis qualifies as physical activity. Just because you can’t make it to the gym doesn’t mean you can’t be active. Rethink your activity levels: Go for a walk, play with your kids/grandkids, clean the house, garden. You get the idea. If you move more, you will feel better.

I don’t want you to stress out, thinking about how to try and incorporate physical activity into your day. But I would like you to pause for five minutes and think about a typical day. Using a piece of paper or your phone, jot down what exactly keeps you busy during your waking hours. Think in terms of 20 or 30 minute increments and write down your activities. 

Breaking down your day allows you to understand where you can add those nuggets of movement—or snacks of exercise—to get you moving more. Let me give you an example of how it helped a woman I worked with a few years ago: She discovered that after driving her daughter to hockey practice, she usually sat in the stands for the next hour. She realized, instead of sitting for an hour, she could walk around inside the arena on cold days, and walk outside on warmer days. She told me that their drive home after practice became less stressful because she felt better and she was able to cope better with the rush-hour traffic.

That’s why I created The Move More Institute™. It’s an initiative to promote healthy active living by adding more movement to individual’s daily lives. The Move More Institute™ nudges them to be more active throughout the day. Natural, non-exercise activity spread across the day. Every day.  I’m a fitness professional with a radical idea: Don’t exercise! Just move more!

I’ve delivered this message to countless women and men through workshops, private training, and my books. It’s not rocket science that I’m teaching, just practical, common sense solutions that work with our busy lives. Here’s what a few of them have said about my message to move more:

“After way too many years of not moving enough, Amanda has helped me to get moving again and to be mindful of it in my daily life. What a difference it is making.”

“Hi Amanda! I took your advice and went on a power walk at lunch! I had been working on end of month reports and needed to get my blood & heart pumping as I was getting sluggish. I feel so alive again!”

So, before you let your own needs slide into the back seat, think about the long-term viability of your current whirlwind existence. Then take a deep breath, get out a piece of paper, and write down two to three things you can do for your own health: Take a nap. Go for a walk. Read a book. Meet a friend. Laugh out loud. You know, things just for you. 

Did you notice what I did there? Although movement and physical activity are listed, they’re not first. As much as I would love everyone to move more and feel better, I recognize that self-care works best when the individual chooses options that work best for them. 

Image: Miikka H, Flickr

                  
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