Barriers to exercise for parents

Barriers to exercise

I’ve been reflecting on barriers to exercise and fitness as a new(ish) parent.

This is a topic of importance to me personally. Well it is important to me now.

I was told in the early haze of (second time) parenthood I needed to exercise for ten minutes a day.  I knew then in my head it was important; My poor tummy muscles, objecting to even the teensiest bit of stress, knew it was important; but my heart, and hands, were too full of my brand new baby boy.

I was so lucky to have sufficient support from professionals, family and friends to achieve this tiny, but also challenging goal.

There are many potential barriers to exercise as a parent.

I am not advocating rushing back to the gym in the early days as a parent. Far from it. Conventional advice I received was to avoid high impact exercise such as running for at least 3 months after childbirth. Many women like myself with pelvic floor weakness may even be advised to take it easy for 6 months.

But what about those like me who need to do something early to re-establish core strength; Or those that enjoy the social, as well as the physical benefits, of exercise; what about later on… Being a parent lasts a long time.

These are some of the barriers to exercise I have encountered as a parent. Perhaps you have also experienced others?

1. Time: It can just be so busy. Juggling children, domestic duties, work and sleep. Exercise and fitness may not be a priority for precious adult time. Sometimes this is quite appropriate; time for emotional wellbeing is also vital.

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2. Energy: It is tiring physically and sometimes emotionally exhausting as a parent, particularly if sleep is disrupted. Fortunately running after toddlers, lifting and carrying babies, walking with pushchairs and generally being physically active is in itself good for physical wellbeing. Personally I still feel a greater benefit from also having adult time to exercise. I also find I tend to gain energy from exercise in this way, even when my energy resources are low.

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3. Motivation: I’ve been struggling to write about motivation for weeks now. Not because I lack motivation but because I know how hard it can be to find. I don’t want sound patronising or as if I have all the answers. I often rely on the inspiration of others to help motivate me.

4. Confidence: I think this particularly applies to women after having children. Our bodies undergo immense changes. They don’t necessarily look the same and they may not respond in the someway to physical stress. I can’t be the only one worrying about exercising whilst breastfeeding or about the consequences of pelvic floor weakness whilst running (that means potentially leaking a little wee).

5. Childcare: Definitely a practical issue for many parents. There are some classes to which you can bring children also some gyms with crèche facilities. Knowing what’s on where can be a challenge too.

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6. Knowledge: Following on from the point above, I often rely on friends to recommend groups and classes.

7. Guilt: Although finding motivation and time for fitness is difficult, sometimes justifying adult time for our own priorities is almost as hard.

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I felt a little deflated after writing this list. I don’t just want to write about the barriers to exercise as a parent without being able to offer some kind of solution.

I alone don’t have all the answers and nether does this blog. However, I believe that many of these barriers can be overcome by parents. Particularly when they are not trying to overcome these barriers in isolation.

So I’ve created a Facebook group for parents to share motivation and ideas. I hope Mums and Dads might use it to share their knowledge of local exercise classes suitable for kids and parents; to motivate each other; to help others improve confidence and to perhaps share and achieve goals together.

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Here is a link to the group. I hope it might help a few of us over come some of these barriers to exercise.

Ten Minutes Spare – Families and Fitness

Please do come and join in if you think it may be useful to you. I’m sure that you will be able to inform, inspire or motivate someone else.

30 Second Summary: It can be tough to exercise or maintain fitness as a parent. I hope that this new group might help overcome a few of these barriers.

What have been the biggest challenges to looking after your physical health as a parent? Have you any tips for overcoming them?

I’m linking up with these great blogs:

Mami 2 Five
Mummascribbles
Fitness 4 Mamas

Running with gratitude

Running with gratitude (the slightly less cool version of running with attitude)

The exhilaration of a bit of time to myself is matched by the wonderful feeling of freedom running along the beautiful Northumberland coast.

But on some days I’m exhausted. Emotionally and physically. There can’t be many jobs that require you to walk around doubled over, both hands occupied by a small want-to-be-toddler. Simultaneously dealing with the capricious whims of 2-year-old want-to-be (insert interchangeably dancer, doctor, shop keeper, member of Peppa pig) Parenting is amusing, beautiful and ever-changing, but relaxing it is not.

Some days getting out the house to soft play is a 45-minute ordeal. Getting my trainers on at the end of Mummy duty (or rather the evening break before night shift starts) requires a little effort.

But then I remember. I am so lucky to be able to run.

To do this thing that I love, that is also good for my body physically and good for my mind emotionally (I’m still talking about running, tsk no smut here.)

I’m so grateful because after the birth of Pumpkin I wasn’t sure I would run again.

Two weeks after the birth of my gorgeous, and hefty 9 pound 2 baby boy, I discovered I had a third degree uterine prolapse.

As a medical professional I was fairly sure of the diagnosis even before it was confirmed by my GP. I knew that it could potentially result in bothersome but ultimately not serious symptoms.

As a women I cried a little. I quite liked my organs where they were. Most of all I cried because I was worried I would never run with freedom again.

Running has always been part of my life. I would not consider myself a serious runner. I usually ran alone for enjoyment rather than competition. However, the thought of not being able to run without risking further damage to my pelvic floor was difficult.

Of course I like to think if running wasn’t to be I would have coped graciously. Loss of running pales into insignificance in comparison to many of the things I see at work.

But I was lucky.

My prolapse dramatically improved and by the time I attended for my 6 week postpartum check it had almost fully resolved.

So when I lose motivation or when I’m tired at the end of the day sometimes I curl up on the sofa and enjoy precious time with my husband.

Even on those nights. I know how lucky I am. That at any time I can put on my trainers and go out for a run. The freedom that could have been taken away from me is a constant motivation to go out and exercise.

Of course I am also human. Some days when I run I am tired, achy and disinterested. But mostly these days I run with gratitude.

How do you feel about exercise? Is it a chore when you are too busy or is it something to look forward to as a bit of an escape and time for yourself?

Please note this is not a formal review of evidence about running with prolapse. I will be writing more on this topic later. This post was primarily focussing on my emotions.  I hope some of the following might be of interest if you are concerned about running and prolapse. 

Running in Lavender

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Fitness 4 Mamas

New equipment for flat abdomen – a piece of string!

Physiotherapist Sammy Margo says achieve flatter abs using a piece of string.

Has anyone else read about this method suggested by physiotherapist Sammy Margo, for toning the abdomen without using exercise equipment or going to the gym?

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Women lying floor doing abdominal exercises

It sounded intriguing so I thought I’d do a little more reading.

Sammy Margo is a physiotherapist based in London and has been quoted this week in the Daily Mail and previously in the Guardian. She has produced this video which encourages people to focus to engaging their core muscles in everyday life using a piece of sting.

The idea is simple.

  1. Draw in tummy by contracting abdominal muscles.
  2. Release by 50%
  3. Tie a piece of string around narrowest part of tummy when 50% contracted
  4. The string will act as a reminder to hold abdominal muscles slightly contracted during the day.

The theory is that consistent engagement of the core muscle tones the abdomen and results in a flatter tummy.

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In particular the video claims that integrating abdominal exercises in this way into everyday life results in:

  • A flatter stomach
  • A work out for the core
  • Improved abdominal tone
  • Improved posture

Whilst I love the simplicity and sense behind this method, I’m intrigued to know how it actually translates into practice.

I don’t know if Sammy Margo has had a chance to formally test her method yet. It would be useful to know how long someone might use this method before seeing any results? Are there any practical difficulties with the string? Can it achieve a real change in appearance or just as a supplement to other exercise?

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I have had trouble with Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation) following the birth of my second baby. During my physiotherapy I was advised to contract my abs to around 30% during all daily activities.

This video from Sammy Margo is potentially a good way to remind myself of the original advice. I’m unsure if it will really result in a flatter tummy. But for the sake of a piece of sting I’m defiantly willing to give it a try.

I’ll report back with my experience in a few weeks.

What do you think? Would you try this unusual method to get a flatter tummy without hitting the gym.


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Parkrun

5k Parkrun

On Saturday I ventured out into the wind and cold voluntarily before 9am. Actually the time is irrelevant. As to a Mummy with two little ones 5am is a bit early, 9am is most certainly not.

The wind and the cold were braved in order for me to participate in a 5k parkrun. This marks the first timed run in which I have taken part since having baby Pumpkin.

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For those of you who have never heard of parkruns, these are fantastic weekly organised runs that happen in many locations around the country. The events are free and open to runners of all ages and abilities. They usually take place on a Saturday morning around 9am, often through picturesque locations.

How to take part in a Parkrun

Prior to taking part in a parkrun you need to register online. A unique bar code is then generated and you print this and take it to the run.

My local Parkrun takes place on the Whitely Bay Links Common, this is a pretty green area adjacent to the sea front. The course is a mixture of gravel and tarmac paths and involves a couple of small inclines.

What is it like to take part

  • My local parkrun this week had 302 participants!
  • The fastest runner completed the 5k run in a fairly quick 17 minutes 23 seconds
  • The slowest few runners all finished in just under an hour
  • During my run I was overtaken by 2 dads pushing pushchairs.
  • I ran past several children (and was overtaken by a couple too!).
  • I saw several dogs running alongside their owners too.

Forever Young

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Overall it is a really inclusive event. The Parkrun is supervised by voluntary marshals, who point you in the right direction and provide friendly support as you run.

Results

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Later on the day of the Parkrun you receive your results via email. This gives you your time, gender position, overall position and also age grading. You can also look them up online and will see a list of all of the participants and their times.

The age grading is a cleaver score that allows you to compare yourself against someone of a different gender or different age. The higher the score the better the performance. These scores are calculated as a percentage against the world record for your gender and age group.

My experience

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On saturday, I completed the 5k distance feeling tired but not exhausted. I was a whole 4 minutes slower than my personal best so plenty of room for improvement. This still represents a huge achievement for me.

**NOTE: For those of you who feel uncomfortable, or uncomprehending at the term ‘pelvic floor’ I suggest you skip these last two paragraphs***

After having Pumpkin the weakness of my abdomen (diastasis recti) also caused weakness of my pelvic floor and a uterine prolapse. Running is one of the activities that may exacerbate a prolapse. Fortunately for me this has now resolved. I’m not going to go into any more details now, but suffice to say I am delighted to be able to run with all my organs in their correct anatomical position.

So on Saturday morning I could have stayed at home, having a calm family morning with my two angelic children. Or more realistically a chaotic, noisy morning full of laughter and the occasional tantrum. Instead I thoroughly enjoyed my 5k run, despite the wind and the cold, and am immensely grateful to have been physically able to participate.

30 Second Summary: Parkruns are free 5k running events that take place on weekend mornings in various locations throughout the country. The runs are friendly and inclusive of all ages and abilities. The results system is thorough and allows a participant to easily track their progress against themselves and other competitors.

Do you have any experience of parkruns or other 5k runs? Or like me have you had any injuries or complications that have made running more challenging? Do leave any thought in the comments section.
Further information

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Diastasis Recti – My experience

What is Abdominal Separation (Diastasis Recti)?

The group of muscles in the abdomen, and also the pelvic floor are sometimes referred to as our ‘core muscles’. The outermost layer of this group of muscles that runs down the centre of the abdomen is the rectus abdominus. This is joined in the centre by connective tissue, the linea alba .

Sometimes when the abdomen is under significant pressure, for example during pregnancy, the connective tissue stretches and causes the two halves of this muscle separate in the middle.

This is known as a Diastasis Recti- separation of the rectus abdominus muscle into right and left halves.

Why does abdominal separation matter?

Diastasis Recti can often spontaneously resolve after childbirth with no further complications. It is important to remember that it isn’t a serious condition in a medical sense in that it doesn’t have an associated mortality.

However, if the separation is significant it may cause some symptoms.

My Experience of Abdominal Separation (Diastasis Recti)

This was what I experienced in the few days after giving birth:

  • Difficulty sitting up from a reclined position
  • Discomfort coughing or sneezing – a sensation as if my insides were falling out
  • Pelvic floor weakness (and associated uterine prolapse)
  • Difficulty lifting anything (including my baby)

How to check if you have abdominal separation:

To check out what was happening with my tummy I used the following method to check for Diastasis Recti:

1. Lie flat on your back with knees bent and feet placed on the floor

2. Place a couple of fingers under the ribcage in the centre of the abdomen

3. Gently curl the head off the floor and feel if there is a gap beneath the fingers – measure how many finger breadths you can fit in the gap.

4. Check again positioning the fingers over the belly button, and then again around 2 inches below the belly button.

Usually the gap is widest in the middle of the tummy around the belly button. A gap of more than 2 finger breadths is considered an abdominal separation (diastasis recti).

If you find a significant gap it is advisable to get specialist advice before starting an exercise regime. If you are experiencing significant symptoms you may benefit from physiotherapy input.

When I performed this test a few days after birth I could fit a whole hand between the gap – a five finger breadths Diastasis Recti.

The conclusion of my story

I was fortunate to be referred quickly to a fantastic NHS physiotherapist. I wore an abdominal support for several weeks and had physiotherapy input for 3 months.

My Diastasis Recti has now (10 months post-partum) narrowed to 2 finger breadths at its worst point and has completely closed at one end. I no longer experience any physical symptoms. I do have to be careful performing certain abdominal exercises not to cause undue stress or ‘doming’ of my abdomen. If I neglect my abdominal exercises I do have significant worsening of the cosmetic appearance of my tummy – it can bulge back to looking around 5 months pregnant.

Fortuantely as my Diastasis Recti improved so did my pelvic floor symptoms. By the time I attended for my 6 week post-partum check my prolapse had fully resolved. It has been a slow journey returning to my previous level of fitness but I am now confidently able to run for an hour or so without symptoms of pelvic floor weakness. I have taken part in my first timed 5k run recently.

I hope writing this little overview about my experiences of significant Diastasis Recti and associated uterine prolapse might be helpful for other women experiencing similar symptoms.

However, the post above represents my personal experience only. I am currently reviewing evidence in the form of research trials about post-partum Diastasis Recti. I will be posting again soon.

Further information

If you are keen to read more just now here are a couple of helpful general resources.

30 second summary: This is a brief overview of my story of symptomatic diastasis recti and uterine prolapse. The story has a happy ending.