According to the American College of Sport Medicine, the benefits of weight-bearing exercise post-pregnancy include:
- A decrease in the loss of lower backbone density during lactation.
A reduction in postpartum depressive symptoms and an improved feeling of well-being. An improvement in blood circulation.
- An improvement in cardiovascular and respiratory function, for example, lower heart rate and lower blood pressure.
- An improvement in muscle mass and a decrease in body fat, particularly in the abdominal area.
Unfortunately for most people, there is a lot of uncertainty around when and how to get started and what to do that could most benefit them, with the result that they do nothing – or forge ahead and hurt themselves. This is particularly true of new moms. Remember that your body adapts to the demands you place on it and it is important to concentrate on quality, not quantity when you are starting to exercise, especially after birth.
WHEN AND HOW TO START?
Give yourself the 4 to 6 weeks needed for your body to recover after birth as it is still undergoing huge physiological changes during this time. At your six-week check-up ask your health professional for clearance to start exercising.
Awareness is the first step. Do you walk with your feet out or in? Do you move your hips around as you are walking like a model on a runway? Are your shoulders hunched over?
HERE ARE SOME TIPS FOR POSTURE WHEN WALKING:
- When taking a step forward concentrate on walking from your heel to your toe – this is called heel striking. Failure to do so is likely to result in your foot rolling in (pronating) which can cause a host of aches and pains in ankles, knees, and hips.
- When heel striking look at the angle of your foot. Is it veering outward or inward? This has an impact on your knees and hips. Try as much as possible to keep your feet straight and in line with your knees and hips.
- Imagine walking with a book on your head. It sounds old-fashioned but it really helps elongate your posture while walking. This mental image should help to pull your shoulders down and prevent your head from jutting forward.
- Another very important cue is to tighten your navel to your spine. This activates your core while walking.
Is this all too much to think about for a sleep-deprived mom? Remember it’s about quality, so even if you start off with walking out of your front door doing 5 minutes, to begin with, you’ve done well! You are not doing this to run a marathon, you’re doing this to give your body the best quality of movement that you can for this season.
There is a scale in the exercise world known as Borg’s RPE scale (standing for the rate of perceived exertion). This scale is a simple method of determining how difficult you perceive the exercise to be, i.e. how hard you feel like you’re exerting yourself during exercise. It is a good measure of intensity because it is subjective and based on your current level of fitness and mental well-being. Mental well-being is important to include because of the high possibility of a difficult night or lack of sleep where fatigue ratios are high. When you rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10, try to concentrate on your total inner feeling of exertion and not just on one factor like leg pain or shortness of breath. Aim to walk at least 3 days a week with a rest day in between, and build up to 5 days a week once you’ve completed the 12-week program. Once you’re at 5 days a week, rest on a Wednesday and a Sunday.
The RPE scale pertains to the brisk walk section, your warm-ups and cool-downs are in the region of a 3 RPE.
If you are finding a week particularly hard, repeat the week before progressing.
Remember that you might feel a little stiff afterward, so don’t be alarmed at being a bit sore as your body adapts. If any pain persists for more than a few days, stop and seek professional advice. Other valid reasons for stopping include: Chest pain. Dizziness. Difficulty breathing or wheezing. Stretching afterward is always beneficial and helps to prevent stiffness.