The Working Parents’ Complete Guide to Working Out
HANNAH NEWMAN | AUGUST 6, 2014 12:00 PM ET
When you’re balancing a career, children, and time for yourself, life can be a three-ring circus. Throw in an attempt at maintaining physical fitness, and even an expert juggler is liable to start feeling like the clown.
But there are parents who’ve mastered the act. Quartz talked to a handful of these mothers and fathers with children of all ages to find out how to stay healthy while meeting professional commitments and being there for your family. Here are their tips:
Make it a priority
The first step is deciding to make your personal health a non-negotiable. Exercise is not only crucial for warding off disease and preventing injury, it also improves sleep and mental health. Additionally, its neurochemical effects boost mood and help you think better, contributing to an increase in creativity and productivity—and often, better parenting.
If that’s not motivation enough, then the experts (i.e., the parents who actually make working out happen) suggest setting specific goals like running a race or walking a certain number of steps a day. “Getting my Fitbit was huge,” says Kai Seelaus, a partner at a law firm in Pennsylvania and mother of three. Taking 12,000 steps “has become just another item on my daily to-do list,” like yelling at the kids to do their homework. “It’s something I know I have to get done before I go to sleep; I’ll even pace around my bedroom if I have to.”
If strict training regimens and solitary scorekeeping aren’t for you, then Elise Cappella, a psychology professor at New York University and mother of two has another motivator—the people you work so hard for in the first place. “Now that I have my kids, I don’t need to compete in races or triathlons to stay motivated,” she says. “I just want to be able to run around with them and stay strong enough to pick them up and throw them around,” something Cappella still does with her 9-year-old and 12-year-old.
Plan ahead and commit
Whether your job offers the luxury of a week-at-a-glance view, or less than a day’s notice for scheduling, the experts advise that you plan ahead. “I look at my schedule every Sunday and figure out which days I’m going to need to set out my running clothes or pack a gym bag,” Cappella says. She knows if she doesn’t, the workouts are less likely to happen. Seelaus, the attorney, never knows when a deposition might pop up during the week, so she decides when and what she’ll do, fitness-wise, the night before.
The parents we spoke to say you’ll be more likely to make your workouts happen if you sign up for a class, make plans with a running buddy, or join a sports league. Just like you wouldn’t miss family dinner, you’re not going to bail on your morning running partner or a lunchtime Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu session you look forward to every week. “It becomes part and parcel of your regular schedule,” Cappella says, “like any other meeting or appointment.”
Pick your place
Identify what you like to do, and then find the easiest way to get yourself somewhere to do it. If you love the gym but don’t live close by, think about purchasing an in-home machine or some free weights. My mom still carries on that the StairMaster she got shortly after I was born is the best gift my dad ever bought her. If home gym equipment isn’t an option or you can’t bear to work out indoors, then lace up and head outside.
Figure out your time
Getting up and moving before the kids wake up doesn’t have to be painful, and helps ensure success. As my mom recalls, whether she was using that StairMaster or hitting the gym, fitting in exercise while working as a litigator and raising two young children only happened if she did it early. “I knew if I didn’t wake up and get it done first thing, it wasn’t going to happen,” she says.
But maybe your kids wake up at dawn, or go to different schools with staggered drop-off times that make the mornings too hectic to even consider a quick workout. Parents in this boat have commuted to work by running, walking, or biking. Alternatively, if you don’t have office showers—or a commute you can handle without the assistance of cars, trains, or ferries—experts suggest using your lunch hour to get your exercise in.
If you still can’t find time before the workday is over, don’t despair. Our experts suggest making your kids’ activity time your activity time, too. Cappella routinely heads for a run after dropping her daughter off at ballet, finishing at the studio door in time for pickup.
And if that strategy isn’t compatible with your work schedule, there’s always the night owl-approach, which is what Wall Street financial analyst John Crowe, father of five, relies on, and hopes will help him beat his last marathon time. He admits there are downsides to the regimen. “I come home all pumped up, and still not showered at 11pm.” And, he says, “I end up spending a small fortune on coffee—a minimum of three large cups a day.”
Your workout doesn’t need to be a big production. Crowe loves running because he’s ready to exercise as soon as he puts on his shorts, shirt, and shoes. “The activity starts from my doorstep. I used to belong to the YMCA, but the 15 minutes there and back was enough of a deterrent,” he says. Instead of dealing with the commute, why not run out the front door?
Strength training shouldn’t be forgotten, though, and often the gym is the best place to find it. Cappella notes that this can (and in her case, must) be done quickly. “I know I don’t have a lot of time when I get to the gym, so I make my workouts short and intense,” she says. Try to get your heart rate up as quickly as possible, and then maintain it for however much time you have. Capella never spends more than 40 minutes at the gym, total.
Having the support of a loving partner, extended family, or friends willing to watch the kids is crucial, the experts say. Many couples tag-team mornings and evenings. Some rely on nearby grandparents to help out, while others enact the power of the play-date to get their sweat on. Of course, if you can spare the expense, there’s also the god-like individuals whom many parents refer to as babysitters.
Make every moment matter
Especially when your kids are little, finding “me time” can be almost impossible. And not all working parents embrace the idea of scheduling a set chunk of time to work out. These parents speak of their conscious efforts to make the small moments count—incorporating activity whenever possible. “If I’m going food shopping, I’ll park as far away as I can, and carry my bags back to the car,” says Katherine Balch, the editorial manager of the workplace-wellness software company Protocol Driven Healthcare. Balch, a trim mother of two, even does bicep curls or other arm exercises while loading her bags into the car.
The working parent workout masters we talked to also suggest taking a walk with co-workers in lieu of a sit-down meeting, outfitting your work station with a standing or treadmill desk, or cultivating an active hobby that the kids can easily enjoy. Balch spends hours gardening and, after having each of her children tend to a crop one summer, now shares this hobby with her son. (His corn crop was very successful).
Do it with your kids
If your kids sit in a stroller, get a baby jogger and get moving. Cappella claims it’s the best thing her running buddies ever got her into. “I got to exercise and hang out with my kids,” she says. “We’d sing songs, I’d run, and they would eat their Cheerios.” As your children get bigger, the parents note, things actually can get easier—you don’t have to sacrifice time engaging with your kids, because you can exercise together. You can coach their teams, toss a ball outside, or go off to a yoga class hand in hand. With her kids having long outgrown the jogger, Cappella often works out now by keeping up with her eldest child, a track star. (But she’s had to ditch the singing.)
If your kid is more into books than basketball, parents suggest making family time more active. Try taking a walk together after dinner instead of watching TV, or make your next vacation a bike trip. Balch says she’s found plentiful smiles and bonding opportunities along the route.
Give yourself some compassion
It’s ok to have a little “me time,” even when you know you could be spending that time with your kids. To cope with the guilt, Cappella emphasizes quality over quantity. “I try to have really special parenting moments, even if they aren’t very long ones,” she says.
It’s important to remember that parenting isn’t just about being present, but also modeling good behavior, the experts note. And having a dad like Crowe, who celebrates the seventh mile of the New York City Marathon by running over and patting the heads of his five biggest fans, seems like a pretty good way to find a role model. Of course you don’t have to run 26.2 miles to show your kids that exercise is important. You just have to let them know that when you’re leaving them to work out, you’re doing it to give your body a gift. It won’t be long before they’re eager for a present like that, too.
This Is Literally the Formula for Happiness
BRIAN RESNICK | AUGUST 6, 2014 4:00 PM ET
What is an instance of happiness?
That’s a squishy question philosophers have discussed for millennia. According to Sparknotes, Aristotle said happiness is an end to itself. The poet Kahlil Galbraith wrote that happiness “is your sorrow unmasked,” whatever that means.
Rhetoric aside, researchers at the University College London say happiness (or at least a discrete moment of it) is represented by the formula above, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The gist of that formula is this: Happiness spikes when we win and our expectations are low—but that happiness gradually fades over time.
To be clear, the scientists weren’t studying overall life satisfaction, but rather the momentary joy that comes from winning a reward.
With MRI machines, the researchers peered into the minds of 26 subjects who were playing a gambling game. Throughout the game, the computer asked participants to rate how happy they were on a 1-to-10 scale. The researchers then not-so-simply combined brain-activity data with the reported level of happiness, and the participant’s history of success in the game, and crafted the above equation.
What they found was that it wasn’t the overall amount of money won in the game that gave the participants the greatest happiness. The formula incorporates a “forgetting factor”—which predicts that the happiness obtained from a previous win degrades over time. Ten more trials after a win, the original win “essentially has no influence on current happiness.”
According to the formula, happiness spikes when things go better than expected. “For example,” the study concludes, “a £0 prize decreases happiness if the alternative was winning £2, but increases happiness if the alternative was losing £2.”
Which makes perfect sense: It’s better to win when that win avoids a bigger loss. But what’s surprising about this study is that the researchers were then able to use that formula to predict the general pattern of happiness in more than 18,000 people playing a similar game on a smartphone.
“Consistent with our previous results,” the study’s authors write, “earnings increased over time but happiness did not.” By studying the brains of 26 people, the researchers could roughly predict the behaviors of 18,000.
Normally, the best tool psychologists have to measure happiness in a patient is a questionnaire, which is extremely subjective. But this research suggests there might be a way to peer into the mind and quantify joy, which can make for more precise science in diagnosing and treating mental disorders.
Hillary Clinton’s Rules for Women
LUCIA GRAVES | AUGUST 7, 2014 7:00 PM ET
A sad reality of Hillary Clinton’s career advice for women is that it’s all about men. How to navigate the sexist taunts that arise in the workplace, how to be less of a perfectionist (because men don’t bother), and how to handle double standards surrounding appearance and dress.
The former secretary of State presented this guidance in an interview with Glamour Editor-in-Chief Cindi Leive, which will appear in full in the magazine’s September issue. In it, Leive tells Clinton many young women don’t want to run for office, that they think it’s a blood sport, to which Clinton easily replies: It is. Below is her best advice on how to do it anyway.
1. Play the long game.
“It doesn’t have to all happen when you’re young—I mean, one of the most powerful women in American politics is Nancy Pelosi. She had five children. She didn’t go into politics until her youngest child was in high school…. That’s one of the great things about being a woman in today’s world: You have a much longer potential work life than our mothers or our grandmothers did.”
2. Practice public speaking.
“If you’re not comfortable with public speaking—and nobody starts out comfortable, you have to learn how to be comfortable—practice. I cannot overstate the importance of practicing.”
3. Ask for help.
“Too many people … have this deep-seated fear that if they ask for help, they will be thought less of. In my [view], they’ll be thought more of.”
4. Don’t be perfect, be willing to learn.
“You don’t have to be perfect. Most men never think like that. They’re just trying to figure out what’s the opening and how they can seize it.”
5. Don’t be rattled by sexism, but do stand up for other women.
“I have generally not responded [to sexist comments] if it’s about me. And I have responded if it’s about somebody else, because if women in general are being degraded, are being dismissed, then I can respond in a way that demonstrates I’m not taking it personally but I’m really serious about rejecting that kind of behavior.”
6. Your appearance shouldn’t matter, but it does.
“I mean, clearly people should meet an acceptable threshold of appropriateness!… But I think that for many women in the public eye, it just seems that the burden is so heavy … it takes a lot of time.”
7. Listen to others in the workplace.
“Keeping your head down and doing the best job you can in the beginning gives you the opportunity to be evaluated on the basis of the contributions you are making. I often would listen more than talk in my early meetings with people.”
8. But not too much.
“At the same time, you cannot be afraid to present yourself.”
9. Forget insults.
” … You just have to decide you’re going to follow Eleanor Roosevelt’s maxim about growing skin as thick as the hide of a rhinoceros, and you have to be incredibly well prepared—better prepared [than a man], actually … and you have to have a support group around you, because it can be really a brutal experience.”
10. If you think you don’t want to run, think again.
” … There are many ways to be influential. I mean, you can work for politicians … or in government and make a difference.”
To Work Better, Work Less
CODY C. DELISTRATY | AUGUST 8, 2014 2:00 PM ET
Between 1853 and 1870, Baron Haussmann ordered much of Paris to be destroyed. Slums were razed and converted to bourgeois neighborhoods, and the formerly labyrinthine city became a place of order, full of wide boulevards (think Saint-Germain) and angular avenues (the Champs-Élysées). Poor Parisians tried to put up a fight but were eventually forced to flee, their homes knocked down with minimal notice and little or no recompense. The city underwent a full transformation—from working class and medieval to bourgeois and modern—in less than two decades’ time.
Every August, Paris now sees another rapid transformation. Tourists rule the picturesque streets. Shops are shuttered. The singsong sounds of English, Italian, and Spanish float down the street in place of the usual French monotone. As French workers are required to take at least 31 days off each year, nearly all of them have chosen this month to flit down to Cannes or over to Italy, Spain, or Greece, where the Mediterranean beckons and life hasn’t stopped like it has here.
Some might call it laziness, but what French people are really doing by vacationing for the entirety of August is avoiding the tipping point of overwork. Just as the city transforms overnight, so do French work habits—and this vacation time pays dividends. That’s because, even though the amount of time you work tends to match how productive you are as if on a sliding scale, length of work and quality of work at a certain point become inversely related. At some point, in other words, the more you work, the less productive you become.
For example, working long hours often leads to productivity-killingdistractions. Such is an instance of the saying known as Parkinson’s law, which states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Work less, and you’ll tend to work better.
So too with practicing a skill. K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, conducted a study in Berlin and found that the amount of time successful musicians spent practicing each day was surprisingly low—a mere 90 minutes per day. In fact, the most successful musicians not only practiced less, but also took more naps throughout the day and indulged in breaks during practice when they grew tired or stressed.
It has long been known that working too much leads to life-shortening stress. It also leads to disengagement at work, as focus simply cannot be sustained for much more than 50 hours a week. Even Henry Ford knew the problem with overwork when he cut his employees’ schedules from 48-hour weeks to 40-hour weeks. He believed that working more than 40 hours a week had been causing his employees to make many errors, as he recounted in his autobiography, My Life and Work.
Of course, some low-income workers are forced to work long hours or multiple jobs just to make ends meet. But why do many other employees—including those who are incredibly well compensated—still overwork themselves even when they often don’t have to?
Alexandra Michel, a Goldman Sachs associate-turned-University of Pennsylvania adjunct professor, found that at two well-known investment banks (which she left unnamed) employees were working an average of 120-hour weeks (as in, 17 hours a day, every day). This led workers, as Michel writes, to not only “neglect family and health,” but also to work long hours even when their bosses did not force them to—and when they knew that working that 16th and 17th hour a day wouldn’t make them any more productive.
Michel concluded that hardworking individuals put in long hours not for “rewards, punishments, or obligation.” Rather, they do so “because they cannot conceive otherwise even when it does not make sense to do so.”
It seems silly that many work long hours simply for the sake of having worked long hours. Perhaps the reason people overwork even when it is not for “reward, punishment, or obligation” is because it holds great social cachet. Busyness implies hard work, which implies good character, a strong education, and either present or future affluence. The phrase, “I can’t; I’m busy,” sends a signal that you’re not just an homme sérieux, but an important one at that.
There is also a belief in many countries, the United States especially, that work is an inherently noble pursuit. Many feel existentially lost without the driving structure of work in their life—even if that structure is neither proportionally profitable nor healthy in a physical or psychological sense.
Everyone would likely agree with Aristotle that “we work to have leisure, on which happiness depends.” The motivation for employees to work hard is the carrot of a relaxing retirement. Yet this cause-and-effect often gets flipped such that we fit our lives into our work, rather than fitting our work into our lives. The widespread belief that happiness and life satisfaction can be found exclusively through hard work is at a heart more a management myth meant to motivate workers than it is a philosophical truism.
In his 1932 essay “In Praise of Idleness,” the British philosopher Bertrand Russell corrects this idea, writing, “A great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work.” Rather, “the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.”
That is to say happiness is ultimately not found in late nights spent at work, but in finding a way to work less, even if that means buying fewer things or recalibrating your perspective such that having free time no longer suggests moral shortcomings.
Economists have, for quite a long time, been writing about how simple it would be for us to scale back our workdays as our technologies become more efficient. Adam Smith’s “pin theory” says that if it usually takes workers eight hours a day to make a set number of pins, then an invention that doubles or triples the speed of pin production should proportionally decrease the amount of time workers spend on the job. By that theory, we should, as the great British economist John Maynard Keynes hypothesized in his “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” be working less. Maybe we can’t achieve the the 15-hour workweeks that he proposed, but fewer hours would be welcome nonetheless.
In certain trades, such as law, it makes sense to work more than necessary, because fees are assessed hourly rather than as lump sums. This, of course, hurts the client, who ends up paying for non-productive work, but in the short-term it is a coup for the law firm. Also, although overwork leads to sharply decreased work efficiency (which costs American companies between $450 and $550 billion annually in lost productivity) and heightened stress and sickness, it is still cheaper to hire one employee to work 80 hours per week than it is to hire two employees to work 40 hours per week.
Many people are still stuck on the fundamental importance of work compared to free time: the structure it gives, the purpose it affords, the morality it signifies. But what if we viewed leisure time not as goofing off, but as necessary time for reflecting, for inspiring creativity, and for saving up brainpower and energy for future work?Some companies have begun to diverge from this thinking, though, taking after the “work less, work better” philosophy. The Michigan-based software company Menlo Innovations looks down on employees who clock in more than 40 hours per week, seeing overwork not as a sign of dedication but as a marker of inefficiency. Working overtime has even led to a few layoffs at the company, according to Brigid Schulte, the author ofOverwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.Finally, there is also the simple reason for perpetuating overwork: cultural inertia. Americans have worked long hours in the past, so regardless of new technologies or jumps in efficiencies, we continue working the same number of hours, even if doing so has no discernible effect, or even a negative effect, on productivity. On top of that, everyone else is already stuck in their ways: being the first person in the office who starts cutting back on work time “for the sake of productivity” without fearing repercussion would require courage and a bit of naiveté.
Although it has its share of economic problems, France has less than nine percent of its employees working “very long hours.” (By contrast, 11 percent of Americans work “very long hours,” and Turkey has the largest proportion: 43 percent of its workers do so.) France also has one of the world’s best work-life balances. Working too much is at best, pointless, and at worst, actively harmful. Overwork dictates our physical health, psychological health, and our time with family, and often it is rooted in our own desire to ennoble the act of working, tofeel productive (even if we’re not being productive), and to be able to tell other people, “I’m busy,” as a means of social prestige.
It took serious work for modern Paris to be created. Baron Haussmann was hated by a great number of Parisians for his vision of a more efficient Paris, and there was serious backlash throughout his 17-year project, as recounted in Patrice de Moncan’s Le Paris d’Haussmann. He did not, however, take any extended breaks during the whole project, as Napoleon III continued to push him to finish as quickly as possible. In early 1870, he finished the Place de l’Opéra and was in the process of starting construction on the national opera building itself.
But after Napoleon III appointed Émile Ollivier, a fierce critic of Haussmann, as prime minister, the emperor became swayed by Haussmann’s opponents and relieved him of his duties. Haussmann floundered about, spending time abroad and staying out of the public spotlight until the late 1870s, when he came back to Paris to re-enter politics. A year before his return, the opera had been finished.