CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After sorting through a file of readers' emails recently, I pulled together a few that posed similar questions. What was interesting was that the inquiries came from mothers in various stages of motherhood.
One was from a young mom who wanted fitness guidance on getting her "pre-pregnancy" body back; one frantic mom asked how to fit in her own workouts with her three over-scheduled children and job outside the home; one disheartened mom wrote to say that at 53, she doubted she would ever feel good about her body again and to please help; and one seasoned mom/now grandmother wondered what type of activity would be most beneficial to ease her arthritis pain, saying she longed to feel like a young mom again.
Each of these mothers had similar goals -- to feel good and to have a body that pleased them. But answering their questions would require not one, but four completely different responses. Looking at these emails collectively made me zero in on who was writing rather than what they were writing. So, how do moms at every age pursue the common goal of feeling and looking their best?
• Challenge -- Her physical frame has just undergone a major metamorphosis. She doesn't recognize her body or even the feel of her skin. Her breasts are tender and obviously don't have the greatest muscle memory; her energy is low and stress level high; she senses everyone watching as she assumes the duty of motherhood in her sleep-deprived state.
• Focus -- This is a time for patience and steady progression.
• Goal -- If you are a healthy mom with an uncomplicated delivery, you can resume moderate intensity exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week once your doctor has given you the green light. Increase time and/or intensity as you can.
• Detail -- Choose activities that increase your heart rate for at least 20 minutes for cardiovascular health as well as time for strength training and flexibility. Strollers are perfect portable gyms. Just add infant and go; they become a progressive weight for you to push and, of course, it's great for baby too. Regular physical activity along with a few minutes of quiet relaxation will build energy reserves and will fight post-partum depression.
• Challenge -- She is partially or fully responsible for supporting school and extracurricular schedules of children, meeting the demands of a full-time job outside the home, running errands, housekeeping, grocery shopping and preparing meals for an active family.
• Focus -- Put YOU on the calendar and make carving out time for yourself a priority each day.
• Goal -- Whether it's a brisk neighborhood walk or push-ups and lunges on your stairs, acknowledge that you deserve attention too and commit to moving your body physically in some way each day. On the most hectic days, it may only be 15 to 20 minutes and others, if you plan right, may be 60 to 90 minutes.
• Detail -- If you have children involved in lots of activities, plan how you can make the most of your idle time. Instead of sitting on bleachers watching a practice, walk and get some cardio in instead; Rather than chatting with other parents about kid issues, encourage them to walk with you as you solve the problems of the world. On weekends and weekday evenings, enlist support from family to free you up so that you can slip in a yoga video or a dance practice. Not only will you be getting what you need, you'll be setting a valuable example for the children. At work, find like-minded co-workers and spend half your lunch hour walking stairs. If your office has wellness activities, take advantage of this healthy service.
• Challenge -- She has devoted her life to caring for everyone except herself. She never gave it a second thought while she was in her mothering mode, but now the kids are pretty much on their own and she's left to deal with a negative self-image, a sedentary body, with a lack of confidence around other mothers who've stayed active and with frustration at not knowing where to begin.