One of those days usually follows one of those nights. I got very grumpy at about 4 am when the rest of the house, including both dogs were snoring loudly….(unlike me and baby…..no). I was frustrated and tired….. and baby, well, he was his usual middle-of-the-night whiny, clingy self.
On one of those days you really don’t feel like doing anything. You’ve not slept well, you feel rough or out of sorts, have a multitude of ‘to do’s’ on your list looming over you, and that’s not to mention the millions of thoughts racing through your mind. Try as you might, you can’t get the motivation to start all of these things.
This is where you can’t go far wrong with some walking (unless obviously, you’ve been advised not to by a health professional….you can always check first!).
Walking my dog was a godsend during pregnancy (especially after a busy day at work). I had to do it (those pleading eyes and ever hopeful snakey waggle of the tail), and although weary at the start would return energised and ready to do my workout, or just have the energy to cook something for tea or watch a programme/read before bed.
Walking with a baby carrier was wonderful in the first few months after having my baby. I actually felt like I was doing something, and didn’t feel guilty for devoting time to myself as he was with me. I was lucky to have a few friends who would happily walk with me in my huffy-puffy state!
Walking with a pram is slightly different, as it just takes a bit longer to get out of the house, but is great as you have the added resistance of buggy/baby to push (especially on hills and when your baby gets heavier!).
So why is it so good for pregnant and postnatal women?
- It’s a weight-bearing exercise (because your legs support your body weight as you move) which strengthens your bones (by building and maintaining the amount and thickness in them) in addition to your heart and muscles (great for staving off osteoporosis in later years—walking as little as three to five miles a week can help build your bone health).
- It’s a great form of exercise to start if you are new to exercise, but very effective for runners/joggers who do not feel comfortable running throughout all trimesters and/or whilst your pelvic floor strengthens postnatally (yes, even if you’ve had a C-section!).
- Walking outside not only exercises your legs and buttocks effectively but gives you all of the increased benefits of fresh air.
- You can generally find time to fit in a bit of walking into your life without too much difficulty.
- It increases your circulation and helps prevent pregnancy demons such as constipation, muscle stiffness and varicose veins.
- It releases feel-good hormones (hence walking back to happiness).
- It’s relatively cheap…..just make sure you have some supportive shoes/trainers.
- It can be sociable if you have friends you can go with!
- Once you’ve had your baby, having carried him/her/them around inside you for all those months means that they are no stranger to movement, and the majority (sorry if yours isn’t one of them) of babies find going for a walk soothing and sleep inducing (and a darn sight less expensive than driving them around in the car!).
How do you know if you are walking at the right intensity?
The talk test is the best judge. The talk test is a simple way to measure relative intensity. You should be walking at a moderate intensity. If you’re walking at a moderate intensity you can talk, but not sing, during the activity. If you’re doing vigorous intensity activity, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. Remember, during pregnancy and in the early post natal period you should not be working at a vigourous intensity (more about that in another post!).
How long for?
If you are just starting out with your walking or returning to walking, ten minutes at a moderate intensity (not including the warm up and cool down) will be great and will lead to benefits if done a few times a week. You can gradually build up to 20 or 30 minutes providing the intensity is kept at that moderate level. Obviously if you are already fit and time permits, you can walk as long as you feel is appropriate!
Things to think about when walking:
- Wear a good and supportive sports bra – nothing with wires in! (Look out for an upcoming post about how to choose the right sports bra).
- Wear layers. Sounds simple, but when you are pregnant you need to keep cool whilst exercising, and you may heat up rapidly due to the changes that have taken place in your body. Postnatally, pushing a pram can be quite strenuous when you first start out or later if you are putting more effort in!
- Walk tall, keeping your back straight, your head lifted and your shoulders down and away from your ears.
- At an easy to moderate pace, lean forward slightly from the ankles not at your waist.
- As you reach your moderate pace lean forward from the hips and slightly from the ankles. Don’t bend your back or lengthen your stride, instead take shorter, quicker steps.
- With each step, strike the ground with your heel first, then roll forward to the toe, and push off from it at the end of your stride
- When you push off, squeeze the glute (bottom muscle) of the back leg.
- Imagine you have a magnet drawing your hip bones closer together.
- Whilst walking, hold your abdominals in – to do this, make a quick ‘hiss’ noise – this will encourage your abdominals to contract in the correct way. Now try to continue to feel that tension in your core muscles whilst you breathe normally. This not only will improve your core stability but will support your spine and lend your upper body greater strength.
- Keep your elbows close to your ribs and your thumbs pointing upwards if walking freely rather than letting them wave from side to side. If pushing a pram, try to relax the elbows and wrists rather than feeling too much tension.
Warming up and Cooling down:
- It is extremely important for pregnant exercisers to warm up sufficiently before working out at moderate intensities, due to the great changes that are taking place within the circulatory system. A slower and more gradual warm up (at least 10 – 15 minutes each) than perhaps you are used to is required to allow for adjustments to take place.
- If you live in a hilly area (yup!) try to start your walk on the flat so that your heart rate will not rise too quickly. This is very important for pregnant exercisers.
- Try to finish your walk on a flat stretch so that your heart rate reduces gradually also.
- You should have a stretch following your walk (calves, chest, front and back of thighs for starters) but don’t hold the stretches for too long, about 8-10 seconds will suffice due to the effects of the hormone, relaxin, in your system (post about stretching coming up!).
- Hold on to something to stretch, as your balance will be affected due to postural changes.
Incorporating walking like this into your schedule on three to five days a week you will definitely feel the benefits. However, it can be harder on your joints, especially your knees, than non weight-bearing exercises (such as cycling or swimming), and as your body goes through many biomechanical changes during pregnancy and in the postnatal period, you really need to listen to your body. Have a think after each walk about how you feel. Are your feet sore? Knees OK? Back stiff? Or do you just feel energised and in general, loosened? In our climate the weather can also sometimes (?!) go against us…..icy conditions are dangerous and obviously if you are pregnant you should not exercise on very hot days.
If you feel pain anywhere, slow down or stop, or reduce the intensity and or distance covered for a few days, and don’t exercise if you are feeling ill or under the weather.
Well, I hope by reading this you can prompt yourself to walk effectively next time you have had a bad night with little sleep, or just need a pick-me-up after a long day at work. I woke up this morning feeling rubbish, and came home from my walk and wrote this feeling much more normal (whatever that is!). Hopefully, you too, can start walking back to happiness!
Have a great start to your week!