By Jill Farr
Single parents who work full time are experts when it comes to understanding that time and energy are precious resources--if anyone on the planet has an excuse for lacking the schedule and head space to work out, it’s someone working 40+ hours a week and parenting alone.
America Garcia is a single working mother who has a seemingly contradictory message for everyone--single, parent, childless, or otherwise--that’s worn out and tapped for energy.
A typical day for America usually starts with her getting up at 4:30 a.m. so that she can catch an early bus and get a one hour workout in before her job starts. With two kids, ages 11 and 4, there’s really no such thing as a “typical” day, but America has a system set up that allows for life to happen and still leave time and means for fitness; she has a gym membership that provides a place to work out near her home and also near her job. If the early workout doesn’t happen, it can take place after work. Have to miss the bus? Work out before the later one. Or after hours.
If you think that this early workout routine sounds exhausting, you might be surprised to find that the opposite is true; America credits working out with increased energy, and science actually backs her up. University of Georgia researchers conducted a study in 2008 that indicated that regular exercise--even at a low intensity--increased energy in participants by 20% and reduced fatigue by 65%.
“On my commute, on the bus everyday, I look around,” America says. “It doesn’t matter what time it is--it could be the super early bus, the late bus--people are passed out. They’re exhausted! They’re fatigued...and I’m wide awake. I believe working out is the difference.”
Getting over the hill of “I’m exhausted” to an actual workout can feel enormous, but starting that momentum can be a game changer. If anyone should be exhausted, it’s someone with America’s schedule, but she’s on fire...and she credits pushing through those tired times with upping her game. At 41, she’s no stranger to the hormonal dips and energy struggles that seem to be par for the course of getting older, but she’s thriving--she insists--due to her fitness focus. She encourages everyone--but most especially, older single moms--to take the issue of increased energy seriously, and focus on working out as not just a solution for a problem, but as the most important life hack you can adopt.
“I feel like for me...every workout that I do, I feel like I’m adding to my life. You gain so much--energy, self confidence, the endorphins that support a good mood--you’re enjoying life. You’re not stressed out or sad. I feel like you gain life in the gym. It’s important to make time for that.”
Even a superwoman like America isn’t immune to overdoing a good thing, however. After several months of a CrossFit-type regimen, she admits that she burned herself out, but instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and stopping workouts, she simply changed up.
“It happens,” she says. “I decided I needed a switch. Now, I’m back to predominately weight lifting--heavy--and I love it.”
Another aspect of the importance of fitness in America’s life is that she’s seen its benefits in her improved mental state. Single parenting can be stressful, and anything that strengthens your mind in a positive way is a benefit worth pursuing.
“I go hard,” America says. “This is my therapy. A lot of life spins out of control, but this doesn’t. It’s the place where I don’t feel anxiety or stress.”
“Through my divorce and any dark times, I’ve always turned to the gym to keep me grounded.”
When her children were younger, America adapted her need to pursue fitness with the demands of mommying by being a little more flexible, and engaging in workouts that she could do even when she was restricted to the house.
“I had a million workout gadgets when my daughter was little, so that I could workout at home if I had to. There was no excuse.”
There can be even more of a pressure to put kids first when you’re a single parent--but you’re important, too. Not just because you provide for others, but because you matter as an individual, and if you don’t have a partner’s support...you have to take that role, yourself. America exhorts single parents to really look at working out as an investment in yourself.
“The worst thing you can do as a single mother is not take care of yourself. I don’t allow any obstacle to get in the way of my workouts because fitness and my health are priorities to me. I feel that if I’m good, my kids are good.”
The demands of being limited to 24 hours in a day are still a reality, however, and America admits that she feels the strain the most in the area of nutrition.
Meal prepping as a busy single parent doesn’t always (or ever, probably) look like a Pinterest fairy tale, but America has a work-around for that issue, too...as well as a big helping of realistic balance.
“Sometimes I don’t eat that well,” America admits, “But I’m very mindful--I feel as if I eat healthier more often than I don’t.”
“The weekends are hard, with kids--they want things like mac and cheese--and it’s hard to not take a bite!”
America uses Isegenix products to hit some of her wellness markers, and buys premade Paleo lunches from Plate Therapy, ensuring that for the biggest part of her day, her nutrition is handled.
“I definitely struggle with nutrition more because I’m so busy,” America says. “The one thing I can do consistently, however, is make it to that one hour every day where I’m working out.”
“I just do my best. With workouts, with nutrition...it’s all I can do. I realize that it’s important, and I have to have it in my life.”
Lessons from America:
- Make it easy to be flexible so that your workout can happen even if there’s a curveball. (Membership to a gym with multiple locations = opportunity to quickly work out before or after work, close to home or the office; YouTube videos, etc., if you’re at home with young kids).
- Make at least part of your day’s nutrition automatic; protein shakes and premade lunches might need more budgeting up front, but you’ll be getting insurance for your gains down the road.
- Understand that getting in that workout now can pay dividends in the energy department later.
- Look at your health as important, because you’re important...but also because your kids need a healthy mom.