8 Little Ways to Put Yourself First as a Parent
1. Go ahead, work out in half the time
You don't have to commit to an hour-long HIIT class every time you want to exercise. Research shows that even small amounts of activity are beneficial to your health. Researchers at Pennington Biomedical Research Center asked a group of nearly 500 women—some who exercised, some who didn't—to participate in a study and found that the group who exercised the least still saw significant improvements in fitness. While 30 minutes a day of walking at least five days a week is ideal, even 15 minutes a day is better than nothing. Another study found that if you get at least two minutes of movement for every 60 minutes of sitting in addition to your other exercise, you could increase your life span.
2. Floss—it just feels so good
You know that hyperclean "I just got back from the dentist" feeling? You can have it every day. If you consider flossing just another annoying life task, think of it instead as a prerequisite to brushing. You're already going to brush; flossing can be your windup. It adds only two extra minutes to your routine and loosens up plaque and leftover lunch particles you can't see, explains Parents advisor Lezli Levene Harvell, D.M.D., a mom of five and a pediatric dentist in Newark, New Jersey. Aim to floss once a day, and make sure you really get in there: Bring the string down between your tooth and gum, then scrape it up toward the chewing surface of your tooth, says Dr. Levene Harvell.
3. Slather sunscreen on your ears all year long
While you're covering your face for the day, reach over and smear some 'screen on your ears too. Between 5 and 10 percent of skin cancers develop on ears, according to Cancer Research UK. Apply protection to the entire exterior: top, side, bottom, and back, says Alyx Rosen, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Miami Health System. She recommends asking for an assist if someone is with you or using a mirror to make sure your ears get fully covered. To play it super safe, consider adding a wide-brimmed hat as well.
4. Boost your peace of mind with an annual physical
If you've put off your checkup this year or are generally nervous about doctor visits, air these concerns with your provider. "You might say, 'A family member received bad news about their health at my age, so I'm nervous about my own health now,' " says Parents advisor Marta Perez, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and laborist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "It helps us know what's making you anxious." Despite your dread, it's less stressful to know that your health is just fine—and it's likely that it will be fine, assures Parents advisor Tamika Auguste, M.D., chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, in Washington, D.C. A physical exam is also the best way to make sure you're up to date on your screenings and to check your biometric numbers, such as weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and A1C (or average blood glucose levels).
5. Pick up a new pillow—you'd be amazed by what it can do for your sleep
A good night's sleep is the holy grail for parents—and it may also lower your risk of diabetes, depression, obesity, and high blood pressure. To boost your sleep, revamp your pillow, says sleep expert and psychologist Michael Breus, Ph.D. Pillows tend to lose supportiveness after 12 to 18 months. If you don't know how old your pillow is, fold it in half and squeeze out the air. If it doesn't spring back, consider a new one. And to keep yours in top form, toss it into the wash (ideally once a month) to get rid of dust mites, dead skin cells, and mold.
6. Stock your medicine cabinet for instant calm
Imagine this: You open your bathroom cupboard and spot your pill bottles and bandages neatly nestled in baskets, The Home Edit–style. No one wants to get sick, but stocking up on and organizing the essentials will leave you covered if your family comes down with a cold or a stomach bug. When you have time, sweep for these basic supplies and pick up anything missing the next time you're at the store: thermometer; OTC meds such as fever reducers, pain relievers, decongestants, antidiarrheal, antibiotic ointment, and antihistamines; throat lozenges; tissues; bandages; gauze; and tweezers.
Welly Excursion Kit
7. Free yourself from your device—you might even reduce anxiety
Your phone, the frenemy: It keeps you connected, lets you work from anywhere, and helps you take a gajillion cute snapshots of your kids. But studies show that compulsively checking your phone can wreak havoc on your posture, productivity, attention span, and relationships. To turn down the compulsion dial, disable push notifications, says Larry Rosen, Ph.D., a research psychologist and author of The Distracted Mind. "Those alerts—a new friend request! a social media post!—create a false sense of urgency that can fuel anxiety," he says. In each app's settings, swipe to disable those pop-ups and dings. The updates and new posts will still be there—when you decide to give them your attention.
8. Shake up your approach to produce: It's delicious and good for you
For every additional serving of produce you eat each day, you may reduce your risk of heart disease by 4 percent, found a study in the British Medical Journal. But if you're bored out of your gourd by apples or baby carrots, switch up your prep game. "I recently discovered a newfound love for smoothies, which are an amazing way to add tons of fruits and veggies," says Parents advisor Dalina Soto, R.D., a nutritionist in Philadelphia. "And I'm obsessed with everything bagel seasoning—I always add it to roasted or sautéed veggies." Stock up on frozen produce so you always have fruits and vegetables on hand, and don't overlook the deliciousness of a fruity dessert. "My family loves berries with whipped cream," Soto notes.
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's December 2021 issue as "8 Little Ways to Put Yourself First." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here