Even though I’ve been getting up before work to exercise since April, I still struggle to actually get out of bed when the alarm goes off. Struggle doesn’t quite cover it: I dread getting out of bed when the alarm goes off. The house is so dark, cozy and quiet, I’m so tired, and I just want to sleep in.
When I was a teenager, I spent a short stint as a runner. My best friend Holly and I would meet up halfway between our houses and set off for a run through our neighborhood. We would continue all the way down a long dirt road that eventually led us to the center of town. Along the way we passed miles of Cape Cod rhododendrons, duck ponds, and other beautiful scenery. We kept a good pace, all the while enjoying each other's company.
The right gear can transform working out from an uncomfortable chore to a welcome outing for new moms and their babies. This is the message I heard from countless mothers while doing research for Walking Through Pregnancy and Beyond (Lyons Press, 2004), which I co-wrote with Mark and Lisa Fenton. And it’s why this postpartum fitness program is centered on three key pieces of equipment: a front baby carrier, a backpack-style carrier and a jogging stroller.
Each woman, and each pregnancy, is different, which is why there is no one-size-fits-all exercise prescription to follow if you want to keep working out for the whole nine months. New guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) encourage pregnant women who have no medical or obstetric complications to do moderate exercise for 30 minutes or more a day on most, if not all, days of the week. Some experts believe that may be too much, while highly active women probably consider these guidelines
Since I’ve been a competitive swimmer for the past quarter century, I knew I would keep stroking after I became pregnant with my son Corey (who’s now 4). If I needed further impetus, I just had to look at my lane buddy, who kept swimming until the day she delivered. She convinced me that the pool workout would give me a mental boost and relieve both fatigue and my aching back. Exercise and pregnancy just seemed a natural, healthy pairing.
Walking is the perfect exercise for almost anyone at any time--especially pregnant women: It provides a cardiovascular workout without jarring or stressing your joints, ligaments, growing belly and breasts. In fact, it's so gentle that even sedentary women can start walking while pregnant. "Walking is fantastic for so many reasons, including the fact that most of us can walk with ease no matter how big we get," says Danielle Symons Downs, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the exercise psychology laboratory at Pennsylvania State University.
New mothers tend to get less exercise than their childless peers, but they might be overlooking an effective calorie-burner parked in the garage. Pushing a 1-year-old in a stroller while toting a diaper bag uses up to 20 percent more calories than regular fitness walking, researchers say. Walking briskly with a loaded stroller can burn up to 222 calories in 30 minutes—enough to boost a new mom's heart health and weight-loss efforts.
What's the one workout that suits pregnant women of all stripes? "Walking," chorused the group I interviewed for my book, Walking Through Pregnancy and Beyond (The Lyons Press, 2004). For everyone--from the Texas triathlete and coach who needed to scale back, to a Colorado woman who simply pledged to walk the short distance to work--walking was both as gentle and as challenging as they needed it to be.