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One day last week, I watched a hugely pregnant woman work out at my gym. She had that lumbering, swaying gait that only comes in the last couple weeks of pregnancy. Obviously uncomfortable, she pressed on her back as she walked slowly through the cardio room. She was a short woman, and big, but not obese. Her belly protruded so far out in front that it looked like one good kick from inside could make her lose her balance. She was dressed in baby blue sweats, no-name sneakers, not fancy-brand athletic shoes. Her hair was pulled back into a simple ponytail, which hung black and shiny down her back. She had subtle, beautiful make up and a brilliant red bindi in the middle of her forehead.
She pulled herself up onto the elliptical trainer, which she programmed for no incline and no resistance for 10 minutes. She pushed the foot pedals oh-so-slowly, but kept them moving the whole pre-programmed time. It looked like hard work and people on the machines nearby smiled at her and made encouraging comments. She smiled back briefly, but her serious expression showed just how challenging this workout was for her.
When she finished, she climbed back down and lumbered to the weight room. She did one set of bicep curls with 2-pound hand weights, one set of overhead presses and another of front raises. She finished off with a few mild stretches then looked around, as if waiting for someone. Her husband, who was sitting in the hall with a beautiful curly-haired toddler, waved at her and gave her a thumbs-up sign. He’d been watching her the whole time. He carried their son over to her, hugged her and said something in a language I didn’t understand. The expression on their faces did the translation for me. He was proud of her and she was grateful. She had finished yet one more workout, and he had supported her effort. She was at the finish line of this pregnancy and he was there to cheer her on.
Yes, I admit it; I’ve been spying on this family from my viewpoint on the treadmill. We work out at the same time in the evening and I’ve watched this woman for months as she moved from Zumba to yoga class, from jogging on the treadmill to plodding slowly on the elliptical trainer. I’ve watched as she and her husband took turns supervising their toddler and exercising. I’ve watched her tummy grow bigger and her pace get slower. I’ve also watched as her husband has taken more turns chasing their little boy and she’s taken more time to exercise. I haven’t seen her or her husband at the gym this week and I wonder if she had her baby.
To me, this woman is as great an athlete as the pregnant woman who ran the Chicago marathon. She started contractions shortly after crossing the finish line; then went into labor and delivered her daughter a mere six hours later. This marathoner created quite an online ruckus as people discuss whether extreme exercise (like marathon running) is safe. The answer: It’s safe for super-fit women with low-risk pregnancies. But is this level of exercise necessary to earn a “fit” badge?” Not for most people. It is, however, inspiring, motivating and a testament to the fact that women can continue being women – fit, smart, motivated, tenacious, dedicated, athletic, adventurous, goal setting and hard working – even when they’re pregnant or mothers.
Most women can’t even dream of reaching a goal like completing a marathon while pregnant. They can, however, achieve their own personal standard for fitness, like the lovely Indian woman at my gym. Too many women use pregnancy as an excuse to be lazy about fitness. They say things like, “I’m too tired to even move, much less exercise.” Seriously? Get off the couch, turn off the TV and get moving.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends people define their own fitness ID based on their unique health profile. Start where you are and work towards achievable goals. No matter what shape you’re in on fitness-day number one, you’ll be healthier by day two and healthier still if you keep it up for the long haul. For the woman at my gym, her achievable goal was completing 10 minutes of cardio and a few sets of hand weights. For the woman who completed the marathon, it meant running 26 miles. What’s yours?
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a future blog post.
This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.