Any good fitness program balances the development of aerobic capacity and strength. Your goal is to work up to keeping your heart beating fast (but not more than 140 times a minute) for at least twenty to thirty minutes, three or four times a week. No matter how out of shape you might be, or super-busy, there's always something you can do to get the blood moving and a sparkle in your eyes. Here are some suggestions we've seen work for mothers.
Go for a walk or a run. You can walk by yourself, grab another mom, or - courtesy of modern technology - use a cell phone with a headset to catch up with a friend. Bringing your child in a stroller or in a baby backpack will make it even more aerobic and eliminate the child-care problem. Check out your community by asking friends, going through a local newspaper, or looking at bulletin boards: many have a group of moms who go for walks together; Jan joined one that took short hikes with little ones in baby packs. Or if you're ready to pick up the pace, you can go for a run; you could even bring your child, if you like, by using a baby jogger, a mommy-powered tricycle.
Ride a bike. Riding is great fun with a child. She can sit behind you in a kid seat, or you can get a cruiser-trailer that hooks on to the end of your bike, and she'll look like a queen in a carriage. If she's old enough to ride on her own, she can come with you, though you'll probably need to drop her off back home midway through your workout.
Take an aerobics class or use the equipment in a gym. Many gyms now have on-site child care, even for infants. We know mothers who joined a gym with high intentions, but it was so much hassle to get out of the house that they finally gave up - so try to work out a regular schedule with your partner that's truly feasible and not rushed.
Go for a swim. Swimming is especially good for mothers who have connective tissue problems and need low-impact exercise. If you're not thrilled about showing up in a bathing suit, you can tell yourself you've earned your body the hard way, and that most people are so self-conscious about their own appearance that they're paying hardly any attention to you.
In the comfort of your home. Many women like to exercise at home while watching a workout video tape. Or get your own treadmill, rowing machine, etc. For example, every morning Ricki reads the newspaper while riding a stationary bike at home. Beginning when Leah was in preschool, Ricki started getting up a half hour earlier to do this - and her only regret is that she didn't start a couple of months after her baby was born!
Exercise your mind as well as your body. For a double workout, how about combining aerobics with stress-relief techniques? For instance, try to imagine that a dark cloud of tension leaves when you exhale, and a lovely light of peace and happiness enters when you inhale. You could repeat affirming statements to yourself or listen to an inspiring tape. Or focus on "being here now" and let your attention rest in the sensations of your body or in what you see.
There's nothing like strength training to flatten a tummy, fortify an aching back, or get a grip on upper arm flab that seems like it has a mind of its own. The obvious option is to use the free weights or machines in a gym. But you might also be amazed at how much of a workout you can get while tending to children, running errands, or doing housework. During the tiny in-between times - such as when your baby is sitting in a high chair or walker, contented with a toy or a cracker - you could do some sit-ups or push-ups while leaning against a wall. You might try keeping a set of weights by the phone and working the free arm with bicep curls or tricep flexes. Carry your grocery bags by their handles, so you can either curl your biceps or stiffen your elbows and challenge your shoulders by seeing how high you can raise the bags; life is too short to worry about how it may look to others!
Just like with aerobics, there's always something you can do to become stronger.
Making a change is usually hard at first, especially when you're already fatigued from 3 a.m. wake-ups or long days at work. It's also a sad irony that guilt about not taking steps for yourself can make you feel so down and discouraged that it's even harder to get some exercise. But when women reflect back on their lives, it is the positive changes they have made and sustained that they feel best about. That's the very best way to show guilt the door: try some of the road-tested suggestions above, notice how good you start to feel, and go on to take another step toward your fitness improvement goals.
More on: Children's General Health
From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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