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How to get fit, healthy (and slim) the natural way

Phoebe Doyle

7th March, 2012

Thanks to celebrity mums, the pressure to shape up post birth has never been higher. But don’t succumb to extreme diets; as the Ecologist’s natural fitness experts explain, slow and steady wins the race

 

A recent survey found that six out of 10 new mothers felt under pressure to get back into shape as soon as they had given birth. The fact is some mums do ping back to the way they were - some even find parts of them have shrunk - but for many, extra layers, larger dress sizes and a wardrobe full of undersized clothes is the norm. To make matters worse, newspapers and magazines are awash with celebrity new mums who've managed to shed the baby weight within weeks. No wonder then, that we feel so under pressure when we see A-listers parading around in a pair of thigh-skimming leather boots and a mini dress, wearing their baby (a non-crying, non-dribbling, non-puking specimen of course) as an accessory on their enviably slim hips.

While A-list new mums have been keeping showbiz journalists happy, for the rest of us, the omnipresence of super-skinny celebrity mothers has had a detrimental effect in the real world. Many women have been led to believe that snapping back into shape is easy as well as important, and are left feeling like failures when it doesn't happen as quickly as expected. Surely during pregnancy and the magical first months of parenthood we should be focusing on our babies rather than on appearance and what others think? Either way, there are natural ways to shift the baby weight that don't involve dangerous diets or missing out on precious time with Junior. You might not shift the excess pounds as quickly as Beyonce, but our post-pregnancy experts' advice will leave you feeling fit, healthy and slim - and there's no maple syrup or lemon juice in sight.

The personal trainer
Personal trainer Aimee Rogers says that  while you should always check with your midwife or doctor before starting exercise when pregnant, doing so can be helpful. ‘Keeping fit during pregnancy is a great way to prepare your body for the physical stresses of both carrying a baby and labour,' she says. ‘The aim is simply to maintain your pre-pregnancy fitness levels. If you weren't exercising before though, you can still start some gentle exercise once pregnant.' This, Rogers emphasises, needn't involve donning spandex at the gym. ‘Power walking and swimming are both recommended during pregnancy,' she adds. ‘Search online for local pre and post natal exercise classes in your area too. They are a great way to exercise safely and learn correct technique and, chances are, you'll meet some "same boat" friends along the way. It's safe to continue weight training during pregnancy,' Rogers continues, ‘but avoid any exercises that place strain on your lower back or lifting the weights above your head. Focus on arm and leg exercises and always consult a trained professional if you've never done it before. Any abdominal exercises are best left until after the baby is born.'

As with the majority of health professionals, Rogers advises waiting until after your six week check before you start doing any baby weight busting exercise. ‘Start gradually and build your fitness back up slowly. You will not be as fit or strong as when you were before you were pregnant so take it slowly. Go easy on yourself - your body has been through a lot.' As a new mum herself, Rogers understands that the stumbling block is often time, or more likely, lack of it. ‘With a new baby it's difficult to find the time to exercise,' she says. ‘Focus on short but intense workouts and walk, walk, walk! What's more the fresh air will do wonders for you and your baby.'

The pilates instructor
Pilates teacher Jane Wrafter believes that pilates is ideal for reducing the abdominal separation that can happen during pregnancy. ‘Pilates targets all the areas that are stressed during pregnancy, in particular the tummy, lower back and pelvic floor,' she comments. ‘It helps to tighten and flatten the tummy post-natally as it works on the deep abdominal muscles that pull the waist in. The low impact nature of pilates is another benefit, as vigorous movements or jumping can cause problems for women with weakened pelvic floors.' As well as fitness, pilates can help boost mental strength too as Wrafter explains: ‘Pilates is extremely relaxing and de-stressing which in the first weeks of motherhood is certainly a plus.'

The strength and conditioning pro
‘After nine arduous months some women are desperate to hit the gym in an attempt to regain their former figure but there's potentially a risk and the wrong choices of physical activity can have a devastating long term impact on joints and overall wellbeing,' warns fitness professional, Scott Marsh. ‘The hormone relaxin prepares the body for birth, which is why many women experience poor lumbo-pelvic stability, reduced joint stability and postural change throughout their pregnancy,' he continues. ‘The excessive laxity and postural change lasts beyond the birth, so new mums need to be mindful of this when choosing activities.' What's more, he adds, post-pregnancy exercise should be chosen with core strength in mind. ‘Exercise in the post natal period should be corrective with focus on restoration of normal tissue length and addressing key muscular imbalances. Explosive or ballistic movements such as jump squats aren't appropriate for new mothers due to changes in joint stability and tissue length. Most exercises should focus on alignment and re-educating pelvic muscles. Other areas of importance include the abdominal wall, and the hip region.'

The yoga teacher
‘Yoga is perfect for post-natal women as it promotes a healthy sense of  mindfulness around the changing body, so that you move back into fitness in alignment with your body's rhythm,' says yoga expert Mollie McClelland. Like Marsh, McClelland believes that post-natal exercise needs to concentrate on redressing imbalances that can occur as a result of pregnancy. Along with the mind-body connection, she says, yoga practice can help strengthen and tone the muscles stretched during pregnancy and childbirth. ‘Not only are you returning to overall fitness, you're toning the pelvic floor, abdominal wall and lower back which can lose integrity and stabilising power during pregnancy. Through yoga the body finds its balance more quickly, and comes back into alignment and general tone with greater ease.'

The biggest advantage of yoga though is the importance it places on relaxation, as McClelland explains: ‘Yoga's emphasis on deep breath within all movements can have a relaxing and balancing effect on the body and nervous system, enabling efficient sleep and feelings of joy and bliss.' And as any new mother will tell you, a good night's sleep is something you'll definitely need.

 

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