We're told that to stay fit, prevent chronic disease and keep the excess kilos off our girth we need to exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. "Sure," say all the pregnant women and new mums out there. "I can do that, just as soon as I have done a day's work, cleaned the house, hung out the washing, fed the family, ironed the clothes and taken the dog to the vet."
As important as exercise is, it falls into the category of "me time" which mums and mums-to-be know is as elusive and unlikely as non-fattening chocolate.
Fortunately, there are ways to fit exercise into a hectic day and boost motivation when you would rather spend an hour on the couch with the television remote and a cuppa.
The key is to think "incidental exercise", says Simone Nalatu, a researcher with Griffith University's Growing Years project. "Incidental activity is something not a lot of people know about, but it's what we want to try and encourage," says Simone, who is also an elite athlete and member of Queensland Firebirds netball team. "We are trying to promote an understanding that you can do your 30 minutes worth in 10 minute blocks, and that doing it at a moderate level is enough to give the health benefits," says Simone.
That is the same recommendation given in The National Physical Activity Guidelines. If done most days of the week, accumulated blocks or continuous stints of exercise totalling 30 minutes improves health by lowering blood pressure, blood cholesterol and body weight. The activity should increase your breathing and heart rate slightly, and is best when done in at least 10-minute blocks.
"Whilst going to an aerobics class or jogging is great, I think sometimes mothers have a perception that that's what they need to do everyday, but they don't," explains Simone. "If women know they can add all their 10 minutes' worth of physical activity together and realise they are getting health benefits from that incidental activity, they might be more motivated to do it."
As part of the Growing Years research, Simone interviewed some 30 mothers on their perception of exercise, the barriers to exercise and what strategies they would like to see in place that would help them better access physical activity programs appropriate to them. Most women listed time constraints, lack of social support and limited activities that included small children or babies as the biggest barriers to exercise.
Here, we suggest ways you can fit more incidental exercise into your day
- Take the stairs instead of the lift five minutes.
- Walk to work or the bus stop 10 minutes.
- Leave the car at home and walk instead if you need to make small trips 10 minutes.
When you have a new baby
- Put baby in the pram or pouch and walk, instead of driving to your destination 10 minutes.
- Make your chores work for you. Wash the car or mow the lawns while your partner cooks dinner and looks after the baby; or vacuum vigorously with baby in a pouch 30 minutes.
- Do star jumps, sit-ups and stretches next to your baby while he or she has tummy time 10 minutes.
When your kids are older
- Dance around the house to Hi-5 or The Wiggles 10 minutes with your children.
- Walk, scooter, ride or rollerblade to school with your children 15 minutes.
- Hand out gloves and enjoy vigorous gardening with your children 20 minutes.
Top five ways to stay motivated
- Buy a pedometer and aim to get a certain number of steps in every day 7500-9999 is considered "somewhat active", > 10,000 is the recommended moderate level for an adult, > 12,500 is considered to be highly active.
- Ask a friend, colleague or family member to exercise regularly with you. Being motivated is easier if you have an exercise buddy.
- Find community-based activities that involve your baby. i.e. mothers' walking groups or mum and bub yoga classes.
- Remind yourself that all moderate activity throughout the day adds up and gives health benefits. So, why not start now?
- Knowing that exercise is good for your overall health and your baby's wellbeing is a big motivator for getting off the couch. Exercise during pregnancy keeps mum strong and fit for labour, and helps minimises the risk of gestational diabetes.
Exercising safely during pregnancy and postpartum
Diana Slack, chief physiotherapist at the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney, says exercise during pregnancy and postpartum is important for maintaining strength and fitness. It is recommended women exercise for about 30 minutes most days so long as there are no health complications. It is advisable to speak to your doctor before embarking on an exercise regime.
During pregnancy: keep the pace moderate, but don't over-exert yourself and avoid high-impact activities and contact sports. Avoid lying on your back (ie during sit-ups or stretches) because it can reduce oxygen to you and your baby.
Postpartum: after you have had the baby, don't rush back into strenuous exercise immediately. Ease into it with gentle walks and don't put too much stress on your body. Most importantly, if you feel pain at any time, stop immediately.
Good forms of exercise that maintain fitness and strength, but are not too stressful on the body include
- Bike-riding (lower risk of falls on a static bike)
- Rowing machine;
- Core stability exercises such as yoga and Pilates (ensure you follow a modified routine specific to pregnancy and postpartum).