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For many parents, that first day of school is emotional. But after the hugs and kisses and the bus pulls away, you are left with a valuable gift: The time to do what you want.

A busy summer with the kids around 24/7 can leave you wishing for at least 34 seconds alone. But now that the kids are back at school, you may have a block of time to work with. You can choose to shop, read, volunteer or clean the house – but you can also get back on track with regular exercise.

Taking the time to exercise often takes a back seat to more pressing parenting concerns, especially during a busy summer. These last few weeks were filled with shopping trips for back-to-school clothes, folders, pencils, lunch boxes and more. The trip to the mall can zap your energy. This newfound time offers you the opportunity to do some things that you just could not get to over the busy summer months.

Putting exercise on the top of the “to do” list offers you a chance to boost your energy and build stamina. If you didn’t include a few things for yourself on the back-to-school shopping list then it’s not too late. It’s your turn to update those old sneakers, grab a fun new workout shirt or a motivating DVD to “rock out to” during that precious alone time.

The trick is to get started right away.

1. Don’t procrastinate: If you put off exercise until the next day or the next week, it may not happen. It’s best to set a realistic goal, like a 20-minute walk, and just get to it! Start slowly, and gradually increase the time you dedicate to exercise as you ease into a regular exercise pattern.

2. Schedule a workout session: And keep the appointment. Remember, those kids will be back home before you know it and you’ll be helping with homework, driving them to after-school activities and your time may not be your own.

3. Recruit a friend: Share in the fun of a brisk walk or group exercise class together. The support of others always enhances the fun of exercise. As you talk and share and enjoy each other’s company, the workout just flies by.

4. Choose activities you like: Add music and mix it up to enhance the fun factor. Keeping exercise fun helps you stick to it and sticking to it gives you desired results.

5. Remember the payoff: Strengthen your commitment to exercise by focusing on the benefits, including more energy, clothes fitting better, lower stress levels and the pleasure of having that amazing time to just lose yourself in an activity just for you.

Most importantly, exercise is a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. By exercising, you gain a sense of control over your body and energy. Exercise provides an outlet from the ongoing pressures of parenting while it fortifies you mentally and physically to handle the demands of life as you promote overall health. You also become a positive role model for your family by living an active lifestyle.

So when the bus pulls away and you dry the tears associated with missing the little ones, grab your sneakers, lace them up and get fit. You’ll gain a sense of accomplishment.

Mary Anne Cappellino is wellness director at Buffalo Athletic Club. Her motivational CD, “Think Your Body Fit,” is available at the BAC Eastern Hills in Clarence or BAC for Women in Depew, and her children’s book, “The Most Clever Frog,” which encourages the entire family to exercise, is available at www.eeekthefrog.com.