Caring for a new baby puts many physical and emotional strains on new parents. Facing sleep deprivation and hormone changes, new moms -- and their partners -- can barely find the time or the energy to take care of themselves, especially when it comes to exercise. Yet, exercise may be exactly what parents of an infant need.
Regular exercise has been shown to have important benefits besides pure fitness. A good workout increases your overall energy level, which is crucial after you've spent the night feeding or soothing a crying baby. Exercise also improves your mood, even with the hormone changes a new mother goes through, including the "baby blues" and postpartum depression. And research shows that if you can exercise with other new parents, you gain important social interactions and a support network as well.
According to the August 2004 issue of the International Journal of Nursing Practice, Australian scientists found that new moms diagnosed with postpartum depression who completed a 12-week stroller-walking class exhibited fewer symptoms than those in a mom-baby play group without exercise, and "also improved their fitness levels."
One mom-baby exercise class available locally is Stroller Strides. Not your typical "walk in the park," Stroller Strides is a full-blown exercise routine for caregivers taught by a trained instructor who, by the way, must also be a mother. Each class offers one full hour of warming up, power walking, toning and strengthening, and stretching exercises.
Donnelle Brooke, who participates with her toddler, says she was surprised by the workout she received through the class. "I tried it out without my son the first time just to see what it was like," Brooke says. "Even without a stroller to push, I broke a sweat and was sore the next day. It was a real workout." Adds instructor Nicolle Hill: "I vary the routine so it won't get stagnant and your muscles don't get used to doing the same thing every time, but I try to include cardiovascular exercise and work every major muscle group in each session."
While providing a complete exercise routine for new moms, Stroller Strides prioritizes the happiness of the children. The class format provides the flexibility to allow caregivers -- including dads and grandparents -- to tend to the children and still participate in the class. It is easy to drop out when necessary and catch up again when the class stops for the next toning station. Most children love motion, however, and the classes strives to keep the stroller-confined infants and toddlers entertained.
At a recent class in Magnuson Park in Seattle, bemused toddlers stared as their mothers performed "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" while doing chair sits against a wall. They smiled and gestured along as moms practiced "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" using power bands, and laughed at the sight of their mothers lunging, skipping and marching back and forth across a meadow.
Of course, it's not always easy to fit an organized exercise class into your schedule or your budget, so some parents choose to go it alone or organize their own group. In addition to strollers, front carriers and backpacks allow you to take a hike just about anywhere with your baby. And if you're a cyclist, you can use a bike trailer when your child can sit up unassisted and hold her head steady under the weight of an infant bicycle helmet. Some bike shops, such as Montlake Bicycle Shop in Seattle and Kirkland and Gregg's Green Lake Cycle in Seattle, rent bikes as well as trailers.
However you choose to do it, get outside and move with your baby this summer. It's good for you and, therefore, good for them. "Exercise is extremely beneficial for the new mom," notes obstetrician Sarah Horton Kelly, M.D., in the preface to her book, Buff Moms. "As she starts a program for weight loss and body strengthening and toning, she begins to feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally... By devoting time to herself and her concerns, a new mom gains perspective on her life and role. She is refreshed by working out and able to give more focused care to her baby."
In addition, active moms set a wonderful example. As authors Elizabeth Trindade and Victoria Shaw say in their book, Strollercize, "Moms need to be strong and fit and to spend as much time with their children as possible. Your children will follow in your footsteps, your strides, and your rolls. If you show them the way of a healthy lifestyle, you'll give them the gift of fitness as well."
Laurie Thompson is a Bellevue-based freelance writer and mother of two.
Paved trails for strollers
The greater Seattle region has many trails suitable for strollers, including the Burke-Gilman, Sammamish River, Green River, Cedar River, Interurban and Soos Creek trails. In addition, many city parks have paved surface trails, including these:
- Seattle popular areas include Alki Beach Park, Green Lake Park, Lincoln Park, Myrtle Edwards Park and Seward Park.
- Bellevue favorite parks are the Lake Hills Greenbelt, Robinswood Park, Downtown Park and Kelsey Creek Park.
- Issaquah parks have the Maple/Juniper, Newport Way, Pickering, Rainier and Sammamish Multiple Use Trails and the Tradition Plateau NRCA Trail System.
- In Kirkland park trails include Juanita Bay Park, Heritage Hall and Waverly Beach Park.
- Most of Redmond's trails aren't paved, but Grass Lawn Park has a nice loop.
- On Mercer Island , try the Park on the Lid, Luther Burbank Park and Mercerdale Park.
- Woodinville offers Wilmot Gateway, Woodin Creek Park and the Woodinville Valley Trail.