Busy mother, busy life - but finding time to
exercise is still important. Lisa Yates and Fiona Ross of FiLiFit
It is said that motherhood is a marathon, not a sprint. How true this is! Along with the joys of being a mother come the constant and sometimes relentless drain that children can have on your energy levels.
Whether you've been awake with your baby at night, dealing with toddler tantrums, or juggling a career with parenting, as a mother, you will know what it is like to feel so exhausted that you could fall asleep standing up. With the demands of today's busy lifestyle, it is easy to feel like you are always running and never seem to have any time to relax and unwind. Many mothers are so tired that the thought of adding exercise to their daily to do list seems out of the question.
Ironically, most of us know that exercise can actually help to boost our energy levels, making the to do list seem slightly less unattainable. In addition, it can aid in postnatal weight loss, decrease feelings of anxiety and depression, improve cardiovascular fitness and enhance sleep patterns, all of which result in more energy - making it easier to be a better parent.
So many women report that once they start doing some regular aerobic exercise, many other facets of their lives improve. As self-esteem is boosted, women tend to have a much more optimistic outlook, and this can have an amazingly positive impact on life in general.
Adding some regular exercise into your daily routine might seem impossible, but it doesn't have to mean joining a gym or hiring a personal trainer. With some planning and a little effort you can enjoy the benefits (and endorphin release!) that regular exercise can bring.
For any exercise programme to be successful, you need to be self-motivated. Just as quitting smoking requires the initial motivation and will to change, so does the addition of regular exercise into one's lifestyle. In most cases, setting yourself a personal goal will help to maintain your focus. This could be as simple as wanting to fit back in to your favourite pre-pregnancy jeans, or as complex as running a marathon.
Just make sure that it is feasible and that you set realistic time frames so you don't become overwhelmed or disappointed. Write down your goal and keep it somewhere that you'll see every day so you don't lose focus.
Tell your family, partner or a close friend of your plan to add regular exercise to your lifestyle. Better yet, enlist a friend or family member as an exercise partner. This way you can catch up whilst exercising, making it even more enjoyable. In addition, pre-arranging a walk will mean you will be less likely to flag it at the last minute.
Prioritising exercise means getting organised. With the demands of children, your partner, work, and your friends, it simply won't happen unless you plan ahead. Talk to your partner or family about your plans and pre-arrange someone to watch the children if necessary.
Otherwise, utilise any time you may have with children in daycare, or meet a friend and go walking with the stroller. Exercising with a stroller or pushchair means you will burn even more calories.
Planning to spend two hours at the gym each day when you are already run off your feet is just not feasible. Likewise, starting a running programme when you have recently given birth is not sensible. Think about your current situation, the time you can devote, and the resources available to you, then plan from there. If you have recently given birth then it may pay to discuss your plans with a health professional. In the postnatal period, always start slowly, progress gradually, and listen to your body.
Just as exercise is vital to health, so is a good night's sleep. This is often easier said than done with young children. Try to make sleep a priority, even if it means leaving the housework undone. You might also find decreasing your caffeine intake will help here. If young children are involved, there will definitely be days when sleep will be more important than exercise. Make sure you pay attention to your body, and try and find the balance between the two.
Every mother has days when it just seems impossible to squeeze in time for self-care activities such as exercise - you were up all night with the baby, and now your toddler is vomiting, the dog needs to go to the vet… We get the picture!
However, you can still include some incidental "functional" exercises in your daily routine. Try adding the following exercises into your daily activities and before long they'll become a habit.
• Deep abdominals or your "core": Your deep abdominal muscles, or transversus abdominis (TVA), help to support your spine. Try gently drawing your lower tummy towards your spine, without holding your breath. Then try this every time you lift your baby out of the cot, your toddler from the high chair or out of their car seat. Engaging this muscle helps to protect your spine and will also help to tone and flatten this region. Further details on how to correctly engage your TVA can be found here, or click on "abdominals" at www.filifit.com.
• Pelvic floor: Your pelvic floor muscles are stretched and weakened during pregnancy and childbirth. To help prevent incontinence and other related problems, it is recommended that every woman should incorporate pelvic floor exercises into her daily life. Contract your pelvic floor by squeezing in and upwards, as if stopping the flow of urine. Try holding for a few seconds and then release. Ensure you do not hold your breath and that your bottom muscles stay relaxed. Now do this several times when performing activities like feeding baby, or after every visit to the toilet. For more information on your pelvic floor and the correct technique, go to www.filift.com, or see "Suffering in silence" by Dr Anil Sharma.
If you are fortunate enough to have a friend with similar interests, then opting to look after each other's children makes exercising on your own easier, for example going to the gym, attending a favourite aerobics or yoga class or going for a swim. Please make sure your fitness instructor is aware of your fitness level, especially if you have just had a baby.
If you have recently had a baby, it is vital that your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles are strong before commencing any sort of high-impact activity (jogging, netball, class-style abdominal exercises, etc). You may need to get this checked by a women's health physiotherapist if you have any concerns.
This can really make a difference. Take the stairs instead of the lift (unless you have a buggy, of course!). Walk to the shops instead of jumping into the car - we are all guilty of that! Go to the park and kick a ball around with your kids (this is why we need to keep fit in the first place). Park your car a few streets away from your destination, and promptly get yourself some free parking in the process. When you are in the car or waiting in the queue at the supermarket, lift and squeeze those pelvic floor muscles. You never know - the mother next to you might be doing this also! Try to remember to do this daily.
Just do it
There comes a time when you need to stop talking and start doing. Most of us have grand intentions, but get hindered by procrastination. You will always find reasons why you are too busy, but they are usually just excuses. Good health is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your family, so make a promise to yourself and begin tomorrow.
Still feeling like you aren't really sure where to start? Try finding something that works for you by following our suggestions on these pages, and kick-start your new exercise habit. Before you know it, you'll be feeling fit, fabulous and energised!
Be inspired by someone you know who looks fantastic and find out what motivates them.
Be informed and share any information with friends on exercise and healthy eating. Read any fitness magazines and articles in OHbaby! Magazine on fitness and health to help you reach your goals.
Indulge and reward yourself for making the choice to get fitter and a great deal healthier in the process.
Remember, don't make it difficult. Fit exercise into your lifestyle, and make the change long-term.
Lisa Yates is the mother of two young girls and an experienced physiotherapist with a special interest in women's health. She is passionate about obstetric and continence physiotherapy and is also a women's personal trainer and wellness coach. Together with Fiona Ross, a mother of two teenagers, experienced midwife, and personal trainer, she founded FiLiFit Ltd to help nurture healthy lifestyles. The Core & the Floor DVD (available from www.filifit.com) is New Zealand's first post-pregnancy exercise programme designed by health professionals. This comprehensive DVD demonstrates everything you need to know to safely and effectively get in shape. Lisa and Fiona share a passion for educating and empowering women to "be the best they can be".