“Are you expecting again?” Those were the words that sent Arlene Pearson, a 31 year old mother from Southern California, into a frenzy. At her son’s first birthday party Arlene still showed signs of her past pregnancy and friends were sure there was a brother or sister on the way for little Zach, now two years old. “I had a pouch around my midsection that made me look like I was either pregnant or severely bloated.” “And,” continues Arlene, “my thighs were flabby….I felt self-conscious no matter what I wore.”
Like Arlene, most women begin to examine themselves with a critical eye after pregnancy, taking note of problem areas like weak abdominal muscles, not-so-pert breasts or less-than-toned thighs and are often disappointed at what they see. The idea of going to a fitness center after having a baby seems near impossible: who can find the time to do crunches when there are round the clock feedings to give, diapers to change, errands to run? And for women who return to work either full or part-time, exercise seems just another burdensome task, instead of the outlet for stress and source of energy that it really is.
Pregnancy inflicts tremendous hormonal and physiological change on a woman’s body and what we must remember is that what took ten months to lose shape will take time—not necessarily ten months, but time nonetheless—to reshape. A fitness program doesn’t need to be a major undertaking. It can be as simple as a few stretches, lunges and crunches or a brisk walk or jog. What is important is to get your body in motion and to be consistent. Let’s go back to Arlene and see how she did it.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Always check with your doctor first before starting any type of exercise, especially if you’ve recently given birth, if your delivery had complications, if you’re breastfeeding or if you have any health problems like asthma, hypertension or diabetes.
“Once I got the green light from my doctor, the next thing I did was invest in good running shoes because I knew walking and running would be part of my program,” says Arlene. Take time to carefully select a sneaker that will give your feet and ankles support and stability, absorb shock and impact and that have ‘breathable’ design to keep feet cool and dry. There are many different types of sneakers each designed for different types of activity including aerobics, walking, running, dancing and cross-training. The prices may seem a little hefty, particularly if you’re on a budget, but stable, protective footwear will reduce the risk of injury and make your workout more enjoyable.
Clothing that allows you to move freely is equally important. Items that are made of lycra or cotton offer the best in comfort, flexibility and again, ‘breathability.’ Items with these components also tend to wash and store well and can be purchased inexpensively at discount stores such as Wal-Mart, Ames or K-Mart.
Next, write out your goals. Do you want to lose weight? Tone? Cardiovascular fitness? Or a combination of all three? It’s important to know what your goals are since each exercise will offer something different. Yoga does not offer the same cardiovascular fitness that walking does but it’s great for strengthening muscles and releasing tension and stress.
One of the main reasons new mothers cite for not exercising is lack of time. “I had to be realistic,” notes Arlene, “I didn’t have two hours to spend in a gym and since I live in a rural the drive alone would be a half-hour.” So what’s a woman to do? Arlene had to be creative and find ways to fit fitness in, without disturbing the peace.
Combine tasks. Seek out ways to maximize your time such as presorting laundry as it collects, running the dishwasher as you sleep at night, combining errands by location instead of trying to drive everywhere in one day.
Adjust schedules. Start the day earlier rather than ending it later. Going to bed an hour earlier will give you the energy to wake up a half hour earlier to fit in a few crunches or lunges.
Seize the moments. Use every opportunity to fit in exercise: naptimes, if you’re a stay at home mom and lunchbreak times for a brisk walk if you’re a working mom.
Trim the waste. Keep a log of everything you do each day for one week. Review the log to see how you’re spending your time. Decide which activities can be reduced or eliminated such as telephone time, computer time and again, which tasks can be combined.
GO FOR IT !!
Depending upon your goals, here are a few beginning exercises and the benefits they offer:
Walking: Good for cardiovascular (heart) fitness, strengthening thighs, calves and gluteal (buttock) muscles. Most high schools have outdoor running tracks with level surfaces. Fresh air and the brisk walk does wonders for stress reduction.
Crunches: Good for toning the abdominal muscles and strengthening the lower back. Experts recommend doing them in sets of 8-10 at a time and gradually building up to a tolerable level.
Lunges: Good for strengthening thighs, calves and buttocks. Stand with feet hip-width apart; step forward with one leg while slowly lowering the back knee but not touching the floor (about three inches). Push off with the front leg back to standing position. Repeat 8-10 times.
Squats: Good for strengthening thighs and buttocks. Stand with toes pointed straight ahead and feet hip-width apart. Squat slightly making sure that the hips and back are in alignment with ankles. Repeat 8-10 times.
Push-Ups: Great for strengthening arms. Using a mat or towel, position yourself on all fours (knees and hands). Keep hands shoulder length apart. Lower the chin and chest parallel to the floor while bending the arms at the elbow and allowing the feet to lift slightly. Lift back up to all fours position. Repeat 8-10 times.
With a solid plan, Arlene was able to achieve results in just three months and has committed to exercising or power walking everyday. She advises new moms to “take it slow and don’t expect immediate results.” Fitness should be fun and safe. Remember, moderation plus consistency equals success.