If you have been in the bubble of newborns, you know very well that the days mix with the nights and, before you know it, three months have passed.
If you haven’t, imagine an endless stream of feeding, settling down, and if you’re lucky, sleeping (but only for short periods of time). It’s a big win if you can eat or shower on a few days, let alone leave the house.
The monotony is real, and so is the isolation.
That’s why parents of young children need an outlet, an opportunity to socialize and connect with others who are going through the same thing.
Parent groups are great for that (if you have a team you click with), but there’s another place moms and dads will connect: it’s parkrun.
‘He saved my mental health’
Madi Mercieca has been going to the parkrun for about five years now: her locale is Penrith Lakes in Greater Western Sydney. She has three young children: a 5-year-old son and 18-month-old twins.
She experienced a lot of anxiety when she was pregnant with her first child, which continued after her birth.
Then the endless competition that comes with being a new mom (like the not-so-innocent question “Does your kid sleep through the night?”) crept into her life, along with too much negative talk in new parenting circles. .
But everything changed when her son was six weeks old and Madi went for a run in the park for the first time since giving birth. She says the support and positivity was “amazing.”
“My mental health saved me,” Madi said.
“I soon realized that going parkrun was a [great] way to get my endorphins going and just being around positive people.
So how does exercise help new parents?
After waking up several times in the middle of the night and then responding to requests throughout the day, it can be a chore to leave the house.
But according to Associate Professor Megan Teychenne of Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, exercise is very important for new parents.
“Physical activity, we know from research, is important both for the prevention and treatment of mental illness, whether it’s depression or anxiety, but also for promoting mental health, for making us feel happier with ourselves,” said Dr. Teychenne.
With so many women in Australia (one in seven according to the Black Dog Institute) experiencing postpartum depression, Dr. Teychenne says mothers are an important population group to target.
The mental health benefits of exercise count when you do it alone or in a group, but it might be worth talking about there, too.
When you add fresh air to those two things, parkrun really is a triple whammy.
“You have the exercise element there, but you also have the element of being outside in nature, and research has shown that it can have mental health-enhancing effects. Then you also have the social interaction,” Dr. Teychenne said.
“So each of those elements really complements each other to improve the mental health of mothers and people in general.”
Madi, who is also part of Running Mums Australia, can relate.
‘It’s reassuring to know you’re not doing it alone’
Brittany Klee goes for a run in the park with her two children, Abigail, 2, and Violet, 10 months, and her husband, Chris. They are often part of a larger group that involves family and friends.
“There’s probably 20 to 30 of us in there if we all go on a Saturday,” Brittany said.
Brittany does the Wynnum track in Brisbane and often stays behind and walks with two other mums.
“Very often we walk and talk and find out who has had a rough week and who hasn’t,” Brittany said.
Sometimes Brittany doesn’t even do the full 5K, but just getting out of the house and getting some fresh air is therapeutic for her.
“Being in the sun and going for a walk really relaxes me,” Brittany said.
Along with that, parkrun is a time when you are not thinking about the chaos of life with young children.
“The more moms know about this, the better”
Madi loves the camaraderie of parkrun, where she made connections across multiple generations and genres.
“It’s good because there are also dads there, it’s a more equitable environment,” Madi said.
“And then there are the grandparents, so you can get advice from previous generations and from your own generation.”
A group that gives you a lot of support.
“Even though you really wanted to do a sub-30 parkrun but your baby made it and you ended up doing a 1 hour parkrun, they’re so happy for you you finished anyway.”
And that silent knowledge that other parents have when a child is figuring it out means a lot.
“One of my children was having a tantrum and [another mum, Courtney] He gave me one of his son’s dinosaurs to keep him calm in the stroller.
“She understood, she understood that I wanted to run and he was losing his temper.”
Madi acknowledges that there is literally nothing else on the planet (she can think of) that is as inclusive as parkrun.
“All ages, all stages, all colors, all sizes and no one ever judges. The person who runs at 19 minutes does not judge the person who walks at 10:00,” Madi said.
ABC Sport partners with run through the park promote the benefits of physical activity and community participation.