New Dad’s Guide to Fitness, Health and Sanity

Being a new dad is amazing.  My wife gave birth to our little guy on a cold winter night last December. He is now almost 11-months old and is more fun by the day.

If you’re like me and most other new dads I know, maintaining your fitness and health during those first few months can be challenging.

I love being a dad.  It has been one of the best things that has ever happened in my life.

Being a dad for the first time is definitely a game changer though.

I mean, come on – when can you go to work with a poo stain on your dress shirt and 1) not notice until after lunch because you were so blurry eyed leaving home for work and 2) not be surprised.

Sadly, this really happened to me!

Your life as a dad means you need to adapt your life to new things thrown your way.

But there is an old saying … you can’t look after others unless you look after yourself.

The challenges I faced were likely no different from most other new dads.

This is a story of how I kept fit during the first few months of fatherhood.

My little guy (at one-month) and I. Both tired.

How to Beat Fatigue

“Dude, you look tired.”

You’re tired. All of the time! It get’s better though.

I remember those first few nights … waking up every couple of hours.

If you could marry the feeling of extreme jet lag with a hangover – that’s what waking up felt like for me.

Seeing the sun rise was bliss because it meant you made it through the night!

Tips to beat fatigue:

I survived the first few months with less sleep than I ever thought was possible!

It’s counter intuitive, but exercising will improve your sleep quality.

Sure my little guy tapped into my normal sleep routine (and much more so my wife’s), but the quality of sleep I got was better because I exercised.

Your energy levels will also benefit from exercise. Whether you’re a new dad or not.

  • Try to exercise daily – even for 10-minutes.
  • Make sure your room is dark. This will help you and your partner. If your baby is sleeping in your room, keeping it very dark will start getting them used the difference between day and night.
  • Catch a nap here and there. Newborn babies sleep often so, take advantage.

Getting Quality Workouts at Home

If you’ve taking some time off work (and I recommend you do!), you and your partner are adjusting to life with your new baby.

Your social schedule, dinners out, going to the gym, the movies or whatever you normally do for entertainment are temporarily put on hold. This means you’ll be at home a lot more than you’re possibly accustomed to.

My wife and I are “busy-bodies”. There was work, friends, dinners, working out at the gym, runs, bike rides, traveling, etc.  We kept busy – that’s our personality.

When our son was born, we spent much more time at home.

As a guy who was used to going for 30-60 minute runs or heading off to the gym for an hour after work, I need to figure out ways to squeeze in quality workouts at home (or close to home).

Tips to workout at home:

You don’t need a gym to get a quality workout. In fact, I have done some great workouts at home …. in 15 minutes or less.

As a new dad, you never know how much time you have, so quick workouts are best.

Sample workout 1

  • 1 minute of kettle bell swings
  • 20 pushups

This is one set. Perform 4-5 sets – taking a 30 second rest between each set. I guarantee you’ll be sweating after this! If you don’t have a kettlebell, substitute body weight squats.

Sample workout 2 – push, pull, squat

  • 20 pushups
  • 10 reps of TRX rows or pullups
  • 40 body weight squats

This is one set. Perform 3 sets. Move from one exercise to the next, taking a minute break before the next set. A TRX Suspension Trainer or pull-up bar are great tools to have at home. You don’t necessarily need them, but they make working certain body parts at home easier.

Dealing With Stress and Change

Becoming a dad is a big moment. It’s life changing. With change often brings stress and anxiety.

I am definitely not a high-stress guy, but I think it’s partly because regular exercise keeps feelings of anxiety and stress at bay.

Exercise also helps me live in the moment.

When I push myself on a run, all my thoughts are focused on the task at hand. And the pain :)

In the gym, when I am bench pressing a heavy weight, do you think I am wondering all the errands that need to be run at home? Not a chance.

Exercise also helps put things in perspective. A great workout often shrinks many of life’s worries and problems.

Haven’t figured out how to fold up the new stroller? Don’t sweat it – get a workout in.  You’ll feel better after. Just figure the stroller out soon!

Seriously though. When you are stressed out, a great sweat is an amazing thing.

Tips to manage stress:

As mentioned above, regular exercise will help you manage stress.

I’ve also experimented with meditation off and on through my adult life. And I can honestly say it helps.

Scientific research has shown that even a 10-minute meditation session is enough time to take advantage of meditation’s full range of benefits.

Further reading:  Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious and Free Your Mind: Interview with Meditation Guru, Andy Puddicombe

But, I’ve Got No Time!

You’re figuring out how to comfort a crying baby, change a diaper, collapse the new stroller,  “swaddle”, support your partner, host visitors who want to see the baby, drive to follow-up doctor’s appointments, etc.

Busy times!

Whether you stay at home with your baby or you are back at work, time is precious.

I literally run into my house after work to see my family because the little dude goes to bed early. I want as much time with him as possible.

Exercise will not magically give you more time. On the contrary. It takes time.

I have found ways to get amazing workouts in as little as 10 minutes and no more than 30 minutes.

Tips to workout is less time (also see the quick home workouts above):

Interval training – I have written before on interval training and I am a big fan. Interval training is intense, but there is no better bang-for-your buck. After a 20-minute session you’ll feel like super dad. Click here to check out my post on interval training.

Running strollers – My wife and I did not purchase a running stroller simply because we didn’t have the storage room. From what I have heard though, running strollers are a great way to exercise outside … and the little one can join. BOB running strollers come highly recommended. The BOB website states that the minimum recommended age to use their jogging strollers is 8-months.

Eating Properly

Or should I say lack of eating. Because I was so busy being super dad, I would sometimes forget to eat! With less time, it’s also easy to give-up and just eat crap. Eat well to keep your energy levels up and your immune system strong.

Tips for eating healthy:

Prepare – My best tip for eating, especially during those first crazy week after your baby is born is this – PREPARE YOUR MEALS IN ADVANCE.

My wife and I prepared lots of healthy stews, soups and other healthy meals that could be stored in the freezer and heated up when we were ready for a meal. Brilliant.

We also subscribed to a food service called SupperWorks. SupperWorks is only available in Canada, but I am sure there are food service options where you live. We bought 2 weeks worth of healthy, pre-made dinners that could be stored in the freezer. These meals required little or no preparation time and provided us with great tasting, healthy meals to keep us fueled and happy. If you go this route, you will not regret it.

Snacks – I would also recommend keeping lots of healthy snacks around.

Nuts, fruit, cut-up veggies and humus worked well for us. My favourite healthy snack right now is apple with almond butter – amazing!

Vitamin D – Vitamin D deficiencies are common in northern latitude countries.

My family lives in Canada where the winter days are short and cold. My son was born in the heart of winter so for those first couple of weeks, we were not taking in much vitamin D from the sun.

I supplemented with extra vitamin D to ensure I was getting enough. The brand I like is Ascenta and the product is NutraSea+D – EPA & DHA omega-3 supplement with vitamin D. It conveniently combines Omega-3 fish oil with vitamin D.

Still Need Motivation? Change Your Mindset

This is powerful for new dads.

If you want to exercise regularly you need to make it a habit. Motivation is critical if you want to create habits that stick.

While not a mind-blowing revelation, my mind shifted in a huge way when my son was born.

My reasons for working out became less about me and more about my wife and son.

Firstly, both my wife and I want to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible. For each other and for our son. This mind-shift helps push me out the door for a run on a rainy day when I just don’t feel like it.

Secondly, I want my son to see me working out, staying fit … and having fun doing it. I hope that being active will be the norm for my son because he will have grown up seeing his mom and dad making it part of their daily ritual. Not something he learns to dread.

Further reading: 15 Great Excuses Not to Form the Fitness Habit

Let’s Hear From Other Dads

How did you stay fit when you became a dad? Any tips you want to share? Comment below.