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“Overcoming barriers to exercise after baby”

By Betsy Rigsbee DPT, OCS, COMT

Most days, I wake up to the sound of my daughter calling out for me, usually between 6 and 6:15 am. From that moment, it’s like the “go” switch on me gets flipped on, my feet hit the floor, and I’m off. Like most parents, my whole life is structured around my daughter’s routine. And also like most parents, I am busy most of the time because there’s always something that needs to get done or someplace we need to be. So striking a balance between work, play and rest is difficult. In particular, carving out time for myself in a consistent manner is challenging due to all the unexpected curve balls life with a baby or toddler can throw you. Hence I have found myself 1.5 years from giving birth to a baby still slowly working back towards my ideal pre-pregnant state of physical fitness. But no matter how difficult or far away that goal may seem, I continually keep trying and here’s why.

Recent research shows that exercise and increased physical activity improves a women’s recovery from birth both physically and psychologically. Here are some of the key benefits: 1. Improved mental health – Exercise improves your mood, memory, and cognition as well as reduces postpartum blues or depression. 2. Improved physical capacity – Physical demands of mothering are substantial so improving strength helps improve your efficiency and endurance for tasks such as carrying a child, getting your little one in and out of the car, and bathing. 3. Injury prevention – Muscular stabilization of joints is very important during the postpartum period since levels of the hormone relaxin remain high as long as a woman is nursing. Relaxin essentially makes ligaments more lax or stretchy, making a woman more susceptible to injury unless she has sufficient strength to control excess joint movement with her muscles.

And maybe you know all this… but it’s still hard to make it happen. Why?

Studies show that some of the greatest barriers women face to physical activity and exercise participation are: fatigue, lack of motivation or confidence, and time constraints. I haven’t met a mother yet who doesn’t face most if not all of those barriers. Here’s what I do to help overcome these barriers:

1. Do some exercises with your littles: push-ups over your baby, chest press your baby over you, sit your baby on your stomach and bridge or do a mini curl up, crawl around with your baby, lunge or squat with your baby.

2. Dual task: My husband often laughs as he finds me standing on one leg or lying on the floor while I brush my teeth and do some exercises. I consciously do great squats or lunges with household tasks like unloading the dryer, unloading dishwasher, picking things up off the floor or putting things away on a low shelf.

3. Find some exercise partners or group class with people you enjoy: Studies show that women with supportive partners or social groups had higher levels of exercise participation and physical activity. I have a group of mom friends who I do stroller walks with regularly. Once we schedule a date, I’m less likely to cancel due to whatever toddler disaster we’re having cause I know they’re counting on me.

4. Increase your usual daily activity: Park farther away, take the stairs, or do an extra lap around the grocery store – adding extra movement or steps throughout your day helps.

5. Something is better than nothing: I used to really enjoy going to the gym and doing some cardio for 45 minutes then strength training for 30 minutes or I’d swim for an hour. I rarely have the luxury of that much time to myself anymore. But I often do feel better even with just 15 minutes

of exercise as compared to none. And the physical benefits of two 15 minute walks is not much different from one 30 minute one, so if you need to break it up, then do so.

6. Let go of something else or lower your standards: This is often the hardest one for me, but I have to ask myself, will the world end if I don’t vacuum one more day? Who cares if the clean laundry is still sitting in the basket from last week? I often have to give myself permission to put my own physical and mental health ahead of household tasks a few times a week.

If you are finding it difficult to exercise or increase your physical activity due to following, you should seek the help of a physical therapist:

* Physical pain

* Leaking urine or feces when you laugh, cough, sneeze, jump, or exercise

* Recovering from a c-section

* Have a diastasis or a separation of your abdominal muscles