Even the most physically active women wonder how to exercise “properly” once they become pregnant, and new moms are always asking me what the best exercise is after childbirth.
My answer might surprise you: it's walking.
Walking is the “best” exercise because it provides the greatest gains for a woman while being accessible to everybody. Unlike running, everybody can walk: how fast or far might be variable, but walking doesn’t require special training or instruction. It’s a high impact activity (which strengthens muscles, joints and bones), and increases your heart rate enough to give you cardiovascular gains. Walking is also a low risk activity even through to your 40th week of pregnancy. Postpartum, walking is the best and easiest way to restrengthen your core and to allow your body to fall back into proper movement patterns. All this being said, if you were a runner prior to pregnancy, then my prescribed exercise for you would most likely be running.
To keep you as safe as possible, here are some considerations for the pregnant and postpartum walker/runner:
Listen to your body. If you’re tired or have pain anywhere, decrease your intensity or frequency of activity. Conversely, if you feel good, go for it -- just be careful not to push yourself harder than pre-pregnancy efforts.
Stay hydrated. Your body is busy “working out” even at rest, pumping more blood and using building blocks to make a human. You will lose more water than you think.
Reconsider supplements. Many herbals in your workout supplements (pills, powders, etc.) may not be safe to consume during pregnancy. Check with your physician, naturopathic doctor or nutritionist/dietician.
Be mindful of your walking/running environment. Reconsider being active in rain, snow, mud, trails -- or any situation that might increase your risk of falling.
As you grow, take it slow. You will gain weight as your pregnancy progresses. Your joints will become increasingly lax. Some running muscles might become tighter or ache. Your centre of gravity will shift, sometimes so quickly that you will feel off balance. With these changes, the best thing to do is run a bit slower -- or walk -- and consider decreasing frequency and duration.
Invest in comfortable footwear. During pregnancy, your feet will likely change due to swelling, fluid retention, lax foot joints, and/or stress from carrying extra body weight. As such, you may find yourself needing orthotics or insoles to support falling arches, and/or different pairs of shoes as your pregnancy progresses.
In the end, whether it’s walking or running or some other exercise, what matters is that pregnant and postpartum moms stay active, comfortable and safe. Think of me as your pregnancy and postpartum rehab coach*: at every stage of your unique journey, I will address the impact that creating life will have on your body.
*Talk to your obstetrician/midwife prior to beginning any exercise program during and after pregnancy.