5 tips for returning to exercise after pregnancy

We all know how important exercise is to our health. I can attest to the endorphin rush from a good workout, and crave that post-run euphoria. Or at least I used to.

When I got pregnant two years ago my doctor advised me to keep my heart rate below 140, which meant a dramatic shift in my exercise regime. And since having my son I’ve hit the sidewalks sporadically, but not with any consistency. The net effect is that I can feel the difference in both my physical and mental well being, and it’s not a good difference.

The good news is that each day gives me a new opportunity to make the right choices. I’m registering to run a 10k at the end of February, and using the Couch to 5k app to track progress for the first eight weeks.

I recently spoke with Jace Duke, manager for Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Athletic Training Services, about returning to exercise after pregnancy. He offered these five tips.

Talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program. Tell him or her why you want to exercise, and what activities you had in mind. Do you want to improve cardiovascular health? Lose weight? Gain strength and flexibility? Your doctor will help make sure you are in good enough shape to start exercising, and then you can design a program to meet those goals.

 

Progress gradually. Make sure your exercise plan increases the strain on your body incrementally. Also, take note of your environment. You might not look forward to your second workout if your first run is at noon on July 4th.

Wear the right shoes. You don’t need to spend $150 on high-tech shoes, but you do need to have shoes that are appropriate for your exercise, and they need to be replaced whenever you can see wear.

Your body is a machine that depends on fuel, and that includes hydration. Just don’t make the fatal calculation that a 30 minute jog is license to eat anything you want for the rest of the weekend – espeically if weight loss is one of your exercise goals!

Listen to your body. You will probably be sore the day after a workout. You might be even more sore the second day. This does not necessarily mean you are injured or sidelined. Jace has a helpful way to identify injury from soreness. “God gave us two of most of our body parts. If you are experiencing symmetrical pain, you are probably just SORE. If you are experiencing asymmetrical pain (your right calf feels strained but your left calf feels just fine) you might be injured.”

Even if you are injured, though, you never have to stop exercising entirely. You might need to modify your activity. You might be sidelined from running, but you can walk, or bike, or swim. The key is to always stay active.

Can fitness video games improve your health?

When the Nintendo Wii first came out in 2006, it was marketed as a new and interactive way to play video games; players would actually have to swing their arms to play tennis. Soon after, Nintendo released Wii Fit, aimed at encouraging families to work out together and the question was raised: can the Wii and fitness video games really be used to work out?

Even though Wii Fit has activities such as strength training, aerobics, yoga, and balancing, consumers complain that it lacks the intensity needed for a “really good” workout. Released along with the Wii console in 2006, Wii Sports has a reputation for being high energy and users even reported soreness in muscles the following day.

In my quest to find fitness video game workouts that are fun and effective, I decided to substitute a week of running for a week of playing Wii Sports. I used a watch to track my heart rate and calories burned and then compared those numbers from Wii Sports to those of running.

When I run, I incorporate intervals to increase my heart rate for short periods of time; it usually takes me about 30 minutes to complete 10 intervals and burn about 325 calories. With Wii Sports, I decided to work out for an hour: I would complete the daily fitness test (five minutes), complete all three trainings for one sport (15 minutes each), and then play the game for 10 minutes. The three sports that I rotated between were boxing, tennis and baseball.

 

I started off Monday with boxing for an hour. My maximum heart rate was about 180bpm and that came from the first training exercise – Working the Bag – where you hit as many bags as possible. The second training exercise – Dodging – definitely worked my oblique abdominal muscles as I had to dodge side to side.

After an hour of boxing, I had burned 358 calories and was tired, but not exhausted like I usually am from running. The next morning, the muscles in my upper back, shoulders, triceps and oblique abs were sore.

I followed the same routine the next day with tennis and burned 397 calories in an hour while working my biceps. On the third day, I played baseball, which increased my heart rate up to 170 bpm and burned 428 calories with no major soreness. On the fourth day I went back to boxing, got my heart rate up, and burned 461 calories. The last day, I played tennis and burned 394 calories.

After those five days, I evaluated my week of Wii Sports exercising and decided that it was not a bad occasional substitute for regular exercise. I had burned significant calories and had fun. However, I do burn more calories by running for an hour than do playing Wii Sports for an hour. Additionally, I am not getting as good of a cardio workout with Wii Sports as I can with running.

Could Wii Sports replace traditional exercise? No, but it makes a good substitute Click To Tweet

That following week, I decided to return to my usual workout routine. After a week of Wii Sports, I could only complete half of my interval sets. I was short of stamina and constantly felt winded. This showed me that using the Wii Sports is not a direct substitute for a typical workout regime.

I will most likely use Wii Sports again to exercise, but not as a substitute. Maybe I will add on 30 minutes of boxing at the end of my run to work on my upper back muscles or play baseball on my rest days, but for me, Wii Sports is not a complete exercise program.

My Fitbit is keeping me healthy

I’ve always been generally active, but I just ran to run. That’s good, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve found that when I have a goal in mind, I can push myself to run better, faster, longer.

The Fitbit craze is sweeping across Houston Methodist. All employees were given the opportunity to buy a discounted Fitbit and wow, have we jumped on it! It’s wonderful to see a community of people come together to proactively work towards being more active and also attempt to “beat our CEOs.” Amazingly, Houston Methodist employees are averaging nearly 8,200 steps a day.

Through this challenge I have been able to think more about the little stuff. How parking my car farther away from the office and walking a little more here and there can really add up. Here are a couple of other things I’ve learned from our Fitbit challenge:

Make it a challenge

My office has turned into an obstacle course. Do you have a multilevel building? Great! I work on the second level so I put my lunch on the third level and I use the bathroom on the first floor. When I go to grab my lunch or need to relieve myself, I take a little jog up and down the stairs. It’s a simple move that will really helps, especially, if you’re prone to a couple cups of green tea and have a small bladder, like myself.

Fitness trackers can make exercise more fun and help track progress toward health goals Click To Tweet

It takes the vagueness out of activity

The great thing about Fitbit is the little progress dots. You set a goal, you know where you are in reaching that goal, you know what you need to do and there’s an awesome light show when you reach your goal! Talk about accomplishment!

Make a game of it

You’ve probably heard of TV show drinking games where every time someone says a certain word, you have to drink. Take that concept and fit-i-nize it. For example: every time my phone rings, I stand up for the entire call.

Question yourself

Can you walk there? Then do it! Texas is a very car-centric state but we often drive 2 blocks to get somewhere when we could’ve easily walked. I understand Texas heat, believe me, but just take the time to ask yourself—can I walk there?

You vs. your goal

Every day you should try to meet, or even beat, your goal! As I get closer to finishing my goal, I find that I start walking more and more. If it’s bedtime and I’m 100 steps away, I will pace around the kitchen, walk around while brushing my teeth or do anything else to get those last 100 steps in.

Just buying a Fitibit won’t help you lose weight or become more active. You will still have to work at your goals, but a Fitbit—or any pedometer—might help to challenge you in a new way. 

Why running is so important to me

I have been running since I can remember. I was on a track team by the time I was in 3rd grade and since then, I have been running regularly, both competitively and for leisure. Running is one thing that never leaves my life for an extended period of time. During busy weeks at work or home, I may not run as often, but I will always continue to run.

I want to share a few of the reasons why running is so important to me. The physical health benefits are obvious, but I wanted to include a few other benefits of running.

It’s a family affair

Ever since I was young, I remember coming to the kitchen for breakfast and seeing my dad coming home from his morning run. To me, he looked refreshed, instead of tired, and happier when he was running. When my wife and I were dating, running was an opportunity for us to talk and spend time together.

Today, it continues to be a great opportunity for me to be outside with my kids, especially since I can exercise and spend time with my kids. My daughter regularly asks to go with me. Sure I go a bit slower since her short legs can’t keep up, but it allows me to set an example to her, just as my father was a good example for me.

It’s simple

Unlike other forms of exercise, there is no need to purchase an expensive gym membership, any sort of equipment, or join a sports team. All you need are clothes and a pair of running shoes.

I like the simplicity of running. There's no need to purchase an expensive gym membership or any sort of… Click To Tweet

All the fancy running gear that people try to sell you like heart rate monitors and GPS watches can be useful tools, but I try not to let the gadgets get in the way of what I truly love, which is keeping my feet moving.

You’re outside

There is something refreshing about being outside, whether I am in the middle of a city, or out in a rural area. All the stresses and cares of daily life seem to fade away when I am running through the woods, just putting one foot in front of the other.

No matter how busy my day gets, I always try to make time for a run. There are hundreds of reasons to run, but for me the sociality, simplicity and just being outside are what keeps the passion for running alive.