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The Inside Scoop on Exercise During Pregnancy

 Prenatal 3

Something is in the water! As I’ve attempted to embrace my first pregnancy, with a balance of privacy and sharing my experiences with other women, pregnant ladies have come out of the woodworks – and they’re all curious about how they should exercise during pregnancy. It has long been my passion to make sure that people feel supported and confident about their health and exercise choices, so, without delay, it’s time to jump into the deep end. Whether you’re currently pregnant, planning to be pregnant one day, or have a relative going through this season of her life, I encourage you to read and share! *Insert my favorite corny hashtag: #knowledgeispower.*  

These initial insights on how to approach exercise during pregnancy are just that; beginning steps and considerations for how to cope with the new changes in a pregnant woman’s body. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for many practitioners and trainers to broach this topic in detail because every woman’s body – especially while pregnant – is unique and requires special, individualized care. For this reason, there is no single perfect routine for a pregnant woman, especially because her physical needs change from trimester to trimester! Nonetheless, I will do my best to walk you through a lot of information to consider for your personal needs. I know, all this stuff can really can make one’s head spin. Don’t worry. We’ll get it screwed back on the right way.

In the sections that follow, I will attempt to paint a high-level picture of universal prenatal exercise considerations. In the future, I will also post an article including exercises that have been modified to meet the needs of a growing belly.

 

Benefits of Exercise during Pregnancy: 

  • Improvements in energy, self-esteem and mood
  • Improvements in posture and reduction of back pain
  • Promotion of muscle strength, endurance and tone
  • Promotion of positive sleep patterns
  • Reduction of constipation, incontinence, bloating and swelling
  • May help prevent or improve gestational diabetes
  • Improvements in circulation which may relieve leg cramps, nausea, varicose veins, insomnia, fatigue and edema
  • Reduction of instances of hypertension, diastasis recti, deep venous thrombosis and bone-density loss
  • On average, 30% shorter active stage labor, 50% reduction in need for labor inducing drugs, and 75% reduction in need for C-section and/or forceps

Note: This is just a short list of benefits for the mommy-to-be, not to mention a plethora of benefits for the little one if you exercise just 3x/week!

For more information, and signs that you should STOP exercising, please refer to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s (ACOG) guidelines and precautionary measures for exercise during pregnancy: http://bit.ly/1yoHwgl

Also, check out the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) comments on this topic: http://bit.ly/1ihe1GH

 

Prenatal 4

 

Prenatal Exercise 101:

Woo hoo! You’ve peed on a stick and discovered that life is now growing inside you!

First thing I want you to know is that relaxin, a hormone that can cause your joints/muscles to be looser than normal (in preparation for Junior’s big debut!), kicks in on day one, literally. Some women can experience small changes in their body’s laxity very soon after conception. Interestingly, that is one of the first ways I knew I was pregnant – I woke up on day 25 of my cycle with my back totally out of whack. I didn’t sleep on it weird or do anything to aggravate it the day before, so the only thing I could think of was that hormones may be shifting already. A couple days later, when I went on a run with a friend, I was unreasonably out of breath and had to ask her to walk with me. It was then, in between gasps for air, that I was certain I was pregnant. On day 28, I snuck into the bathroom without telling my husband and did the classic pee-on-a-stick, and there it was – pregnant! Not every woman will experience these changes at such an early stage, but they are anecdotal evidence that hormonal changes are the REAL DEAL. Fo sho.

Due to relaxin and impending changes in elastin and progesterone (other hormones that can loosen soft-tissue), you’re going to have to see how loose and/or unstable your body feels as you enter your workouts. Hardcore high-intensity interval training or workouts with sudden lateral or twisting movements may become contraindicated. In addition to being less safe for your muscles and joints, maximal bouts of exercise also have the potential to divert oxygen away from your fetus to your large muscles. For obvious reasons, this isn’t ideal for the growing life inside you. Additionally, maximal bouts of exercise are likely to be more challenging to recover from, so it’s best to stick with what feels like “exercise in moderation.”

Some women may feel that running a half marathon is manageable because they’re in a long-distance running routine already and happen to be blessed with enough energy during their pregnancy to handle it. More power to ya – have no idea how you do it! Other women may find that their normal exercise routines feel incredibly laborious all of the sudden and/or they may have challenges getting into the gym due to nausea and/or dizziness. The point: You have to see how your body is responding to pregnancy and then make a day-by-day game plan. This is one time in your life when it’s best to set an intention for exercise, but to wake up and see what your body can actually manage, rather than pushing yourself through a set-in-stone weekly routine because you “have to.”  Pregnancy is NOT the time to push your body beyond its abilities. Let yourself off the hook a little if you’re feeling stressed about it. Don’t go signing up to train for something you’ve never done before. Your baby told me he/she won’t be very happy about it. 😉

 

Cardio Guidelines:

Unless your doctor has told you otherwise, feel free to run, use the cardio equipment at the gym, swim, dance, or anything else that suits your fancy. What’s important is to avoid sudden, uncontrolled movements and exercises/sports where you may be at risk for blunt trauma to your abdomen and/or falling (contact sports, downhill skiing, mountain biking, etc.). These guidelines seem strict, but, if you want to play it safe, it’s a good idea to modify your activities. Mind you, I’ve seen women ignore some of these guidelines and, luckily, avoid injury, buuutttttttt, I’m not going to be one to suggest risk taking.

To ensure that you’re exercising at an appropriate intensity, use the “talk test.” If you can talk while exercising, you’re good to go. If you’re feeling really out of breath though, you should probably take down the intensity. You may only need to reduce the intensity for a few minutes, or you may have to switch up your routine in its entirety.

I like to tell non-pregnant clients to use a scale of 1-10 to assess their workout intensity. A 1 means you’re lying on your couch watching Desperate Housewives. A 10 means that you’re working out as hard as possible – a level that’s not sustainable for longer than a minute or two, at most. For pregnant clients, I like to use the same scale. I counsel them that it’s no longer going to be appropriate to reach a 10 on the scale during their workouts, but that exercising up to a 7 is going to be just fine. You might even hit an 8, from time to time, if you’re really fit. But, it’s best not to linger in that zone for very long – especially if you’re feeling really out of breath.

 

Prenatal 1

 

Strength Training Guidelines:

You may be gaga for your beach body workouts or CrossFit, but pregnancy can definitely take some of the oomph out of your weight lifting routine. If you find that lifting your normal weights is a lot harder than it was before getting pregnant, then it’s a good idea to reduce the weight to a safe level. You will want to keep your heart rate in an appropriate range (see the 1-10 scale of exertion mentioned in “Cardio Guidelines” above). A lot of women find they can’t lift as heavy due to cardiac changes taking a toll on energy (ex: blood pressure drops, dizziness, fatigue). But, again, listen to your body.

You should also be extra conscientious to keep proper exercise form since it can have positive or negative consequences for your changing body. Thus, choose the weights that feel appropriate and don’t be surprised if you’re a wee bit deflated by having to step down from the heavier weights that you were so proud to lift before. Weights that you can control will be best for your body!  In fact, many women find that they have to opt for lower weights with higher reps. Do what you’ve gotta do! No self-shaming.

Full-body workouts are always going to be the golden ticket, but, during pregnancy, you may want to put a little more emphasis on hip and core exercises since these areas will be largely impacted by the growing weight of your uterus and baby. For optimal core strength, begin focusing on your transverse abdominus through planks and stabilizing exercises instead of crunches. Crunches may still feel okay for a little while during the first trimester, depending on how quickly your body changes, but they can 1) weaken the pelvic floor and 2) place inappropriate stress on a stretching belly (which can cause diastasis recti).

Pregnancy is a great time to focus on back exercises. These are super important for postural support and can minimize lower back discomfort (common in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters) and upper back discomfort (commonly results from breastfeeding and consistently holding your new bundle of joy).

Other considerations:

  • While weight lifting, always remember to breathe so you don’t get faint.
  • Avoid exercises lying flat on your back once you’re putting on significant weight and/or the pressure becomes uncomfortable. This may be towards the end of your first trimester, especially if this is not your first baby, or it may be around the end of the fourth month of pregnancy for new moms who are slower to expand.
  • Aim for stability and moderation. Sticking with safer routines doesn’t mean you can’t get a great workout.
  • Don’t compare what you can do to what another pregnant woman can do for exercise. ‘Nuff said.
  • KEGALS!!!!!! 😉

 

 

Prenatal 5

 

Stretching Guidelines:

After the first trimester a lot of women may need to avoid static, prolonged stretches in some or all areas of the body (esp. the stomach), and may find that foam rolling becomes difficult due to a growing belly and/or foam rolling’s impact on blood pressure. Stretching to the point of discomfort, for any period of time, is going to be contraindicated throughout the entire pregnancy, for all women.

Some women may find that their regular yoga class feels comfortable for a while. A lot more women will probably find that prenatal classes are a better option once they are well into their second trimester or early third trimester. Plenty of yoga and stretching exercises can relieve some pressure and discomfort in areas that get tight from daily exercise and/or the physical burden of carrying extra weight; however, the pregnant body needs modified versions of many poses and stretches.

Ultimately, your body now craves a lot more stability to counteract the natural loosening of soft-tissue, so I encourage you to consider the following:

If you’re performing yoga or stretching exercises and you notice an increase in discomfort, rather than a decrease, you should consider finding alternative routines and exercises. Plenty of women will find short-term relief of discomfort when stretching due to the increase in circulation that takes place; however, if you’re uncomfortable a few short hours later, you may try skipping yoga/stretching for a week and replacing it with stability exercises. If your discomfort decreases then there is your answer; your body is craving stability, not stretching. If you’re not noticing any change in regular discomfort, and you’ve already consulted a qualified exercise professional to learn appropriate stabilizing exercises, then it’s probably time to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist. They can give you modified exercises and hands-on care to relieve your pain.

 

Fueling Your Workouts with Food:

Since you’re growing a new life, you’re going to need to eat back the calories you burn. First time you’re ever going to consider doing that, right?! 😉 In general, the first trimester you can eat for weight maintenance since you don’t need many more calories per day (baby is still itty bitty). During the second trimester you need approximately 300 extra calories/day. The third trimester, depending on your pre-pregnancy BMI and your current pregnancy weight gain, may vary and go up to as much as 500 extra calories/day. Mind you, it’s best to keep track of your weight and discuss these things at your OB check-ups, especially if you have a rapid weight gain or loss at any point during pregnancy. Lastly, if you’re an expectant mama of multiples, you will need even more! Eat up!

If you’re experiencing nausea, try to eat a light carb-based snack before you exercise. This may help ease the symptoms and will give you the necessary fuel to get moving.

If you’re exercising regularly at ANY point in pregnancy, make a note that you may need to talk to your doctor about getting additional iron through your diet so that you don’t develop full-blown anemia (very common in pregnancy).

Lastly, although carbs are probably the first good group on your pregnant brain, it’s still important to eat plenty of healthy fats and proteins. A great time for eating a healthy portion of protein is immediately following your workout.

 

Prenatal 2

Please don’t hesitate to ask me questions if you’re expecting or expecting to be expecting! No one should have to feel “in the dark” when it comes to pregnancy and exercise. You have a built in support system right here!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Women of Every Age

Women of every age have something to look forward to. Not only are there weddings, babies, grandbabies, career promotions and other life events to be excited about, but there are also many physical changes that are positive – yes, positive – as you age. There are physiological facts and breakthroughs in each decade of a woman’s lifespan which prove that aging gracefully and healthfully is possible. In fact, there’s never been a better time in history to be a woman!

According to an article by Buzzfeed, 30 Reasons Being a Woman is Awesome, women have better chances of surviving melanoma, have excellent communication skills, have more wardrobe choices than men (duh), and, apparently, are better leaders than men too! (Stepping on any macho toes? Sorry!) The article also points out that women have authored some of this century’s most popular book series, including The Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter, and 50 Shades of Grey. Whether or not you’re into teeny bopper books, you’ve got to admit, we women are impressive! Now, let’s see what we can look forward to with each physical stage in life…

 

5-13

5-13 Years Old:

There are more and more programs out there which help young girls become physically active. It’s so awesome to see this change in society since, as mentioned in WellnessWinz’s This Girl CAN! article, sports and exercise have been proven to have significant and positive impacts on girls’ physical and mental health. For example, girls who participate in sports tend to have higher levels of self-esteem and confidence. What better time to get active than when your body is bursting wtih youthful energy?!

In the DC metro region alone, there are multiple non-profit organizations rallying behind girls’ involvement in physical activity. Girls on the Run (GOTR) and Koa Sports are two of these organizations. GOTR provides an “after-school program that encourages preteen girls to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through running.” Girls train for a 5K race under a coach’s supervision and training. On race day, the girls are accompanied by a parent, teacher, friend or guardian who runs the 5K with them. If you’ve ever been to one of these events, you will see just how awesome the energy is and how many people (who don’t even know the girls) come out to volunteer and cheer them on. It’s amazing! GOTR has officially helped one million girls. Now that’s how we change the world!

Koa Sports (see picture above) helps children enjoy excellent sports programs and camps. They have a “Play it Forward Scholarship Fund” which ensures that no underprivileged youth, who is interested in sports, gets left behind. Koa Sports draws on its coaching and equipment resources to make a difference. Organizations like this exist because sports have an incredible power to unite divided communities, to strength social bonds, to inspire confidence, and to offer unique health benefits.

If you’re not in the DC area, there may be organizations like this that exist in your own community. As a woman, I encourage you to seek them out, learn more, and perhaps even volunteer so that we can usher a new generation of girls into a healthy lifestyle. No longer does “run like a girl” mean something sissy. Girls are finally being recognized for their strengths! GIRL POWER! (forgive me, it felt right) 

 

13-20

13-20 years old:

Most women reading this blog are in their 20s or older, so it’s safe to say that we’ve all “been there.” We’ve experienced the roller coaster of being a teen; the whiteheads, the first heartbreak, the ability to eat junk food with little to no consequences. Ahhh, the golden days.

With plenty of life ahead, a metabolism capable of burning off a full pan of brownies in an hour (okay, maybe that’s just a tad extreme), and plenty of organized activities to be involved in, being a teen isn’t half bad! However, being overweight in one’s teens can lead to being self-conscious and less healthy. But, it’s the easiest time in life to lose weight! This isn’t just because of the high levels of physical energy that teens possess, but also because of a teen’s ability to ask her mom or dad to buy certain foods that will help her feel better and improve her health. Adolescents aren’t starving college students living off of raman yet!

There are ways to feel great before flying the nest, especially since teens now have incredible resources at their fingertips thanks to smartphones, tablets and laptops. It’s easier than ever to find healthy resources and support. Pinterest, anyone?! 

 

20s

Your 20s:

At the time of this article’s publication, the 2015 Women’s World Cup is taking place and US Women’s Soccer is captivating the attention of American audiences. The average age of the team’s players is 28 years old. This may be skewed a little bit due to three players who are slightly older but still, it’s awesome to think about the fact that even into the late 20s, a woman’s body is capable of performing incredible athletic feats.

A woman’s physical performance may be, in part, thanks to her higher pain threshold. Yup, that’s right! Women have higher tolerances for pain, probably due to child bearing. This helps us to not act like big babies when we stub a toe or have the stomach flu. I mean, have you ever seen the sad puppy look that your significant other shoots you from the couch when he is laid up from illness, sucking on ice chips and gingerly munching on Saltine crackers? It’s not a pretty sight. 

Another cool thing about the adventurous, self-discovery years that define a woman in her 20s, is that she is literally still growing. Isn’t that incredible? The frontal lobe of the brain furthers its development, allowing us to become more mature, articulate and physically agile. Livestrong eloquently summarizes this process and its impact on our development:

“The frontal lobe of the brain continues to grow and develop during early adulthood. This area is responsible for judgment, a concept that contributes to a person’s mental maturation. In your early 20s, you will begin to more clearly distinguish right from wrong, beyond than the basic concept learned in childhood. The frontal lobe also helps speech functions and muscle movement, helping you become more coordinated and agile.”

30s

Your 30s:

There are a multitude of articles featuring older women speaking to what they wish they had known at a younger age. One of these reflective, advice-giving articles was recently published via The Huffington Post, written by Catherine Pearson. Pearson’s first two bits of advice include 1) ditching the unnecessary struggle of trying to fit into skinny jeans and 2) avoiding judgement of other women at all costs. Her advice is in keeping with other women’s outspoken wisdom. It appears that as we age, we become a lot more accepting of and comfortable with our bodies.

Part of this newfound body embracing may be because most women have had a baby by the time they are in their mid-30s. According to BabyCenter, the average age that American women have a baby is 26 years old. So, maybe this life altering experience [having a child] resets one’s overall perspective? Perhaps the frontal lobe’s development (mentioned in “Your 20s”) also contributes to this change? Whatever the case, it’s awesome to see women in their 30s accelerating in both their personal and career growth, more confident of who they are both physically and intellectually.

Pearson ends her article encouraging women to “not worry so much” and “just wear the damn bikini.” Let’s raise a glass to that! After baby bearing years, women may have a few stretch marks or loose skin, but they have also gained bragging rights: “Yea, I created a life. No biggie.” That’s an awesome physical feat that justifies putting on a bikini any darn time you like, in my opinion! As for women who haven’t had children yet, or who have decided to forego that aspect of life, they’re still probably glowing with newfound confidence and self-love – even more reason to ditch time-consuming worries and just start living life. Babies or no babies, it’s full steam ahead!

 

40s

Your 40s:

Mid-life is when plenty of women and men alike re-evaluate their personal goals. There may be some disappointments, realizing that certain things may never happen, but there may also be newfound hope once setting new, refreshing goals for one’s life. What’s important to remember throughout the challenges is that even though your body is changing, it’s still incredibly responsive. It will improve and adapt with some effort on your end.

Many women believe that by this age their metabolisms have dropped dramatically. Although it’s true that metabolic rates drop by about 2% or more per decade, that’s really not all that much! It’s not a drastic 500-1000 calorie difference a day like some women believe. For example, if you can eat 1800 calories/day in your 20s while maintaing weight, and your metabolism decreases by 2% every decade, then in your 40s, you’re likely eating around 1650 calories/day for weight maintainence. That’s the equivalent of 1.25-1.5 bananas, a yogurt cup, 3/4 of a granola bar, or a little less rice or pasta at dinner. Of course, everyone has different genetic, height and weight factors that play into this equation, but still, not as bad as you thought, huh?

Want more encouraging news?! I’ve got more for you…but err…maybe not such good news your spouse…

Time Magainze highlights several key differences between the average woman’s health profile compared to the average man’s. For starters, women have higher HDL cholesterol than men. HDL is a good kind of cholesterol that protects the heart and vascular health. As you can imagine, this means that women tend to have a delayed risk for heart disease. Additionally, women’s brains have better recall compared with men. Thus, women are more likely to remember where the car keys were left, what time her daughter’s dance recital is scheduled for, and what was on the grocery list that accidentally got left on the kitchen counter. I’m biting my tounge here because there are endless stories I could share which show that this holds true in my household! 

 

50s

Your 50s:

I know, I know…MENOPAUSE. I’ve worked with plenty of women going through it and I completely understand that it’s not easy. I’m not trying to take away from that. But, I think it’s interesting to consider one positive aspect of decling estrogen. Here it goes, deep breath…

Higher estrogen prevents your body from being able to put muscle on quickly, causing women to see lesser strength and lean mass gains compared to men who work out at an equivalent level. So, what I pose to my older female clients is this: “What if now, assuming you work for it, your body can actually put on more muscle for the first time ever, allowing you a boost in your metabolism?!” Of course, menopause comes with a lot of fatigue that can make it hard to motivate to work out, but energy can and will boost if you get adequate rest, control food portions, stay hydrated, embrace relaxation and de-stressing, and exercise daily. Click on “Anti-Aging Foods” for a nice resource on eating healthy as you age. Psstt- this should be something that women of younger ages should also try to abide by!

Healthy eating and exercise really can do wonders. These women who are 50 and fabulous defy age expectations: These 7 Women Prove that Fitness is the Fountain of Youth. True, a bunch of them are in the health/fitness industry, but if these normal women can do it, then so can you! You’re still attention worthy, vibrant and beautiful.

 

60+

Your 60s and beyond:

Healthy eating and fitness habits don’t have to stop in your 50s. They can and should continue, giving you energy to enjoy retirement, tubby grandbabies, and your favorite leisure activities. Plus, given the fact that women live longer than men, on average by seven years, you will want to remain healthy and mobile so that you can enjoy the added years nature has blessed you with!

Women around the world are proving that age is just as much a mentality as it is a physical state. People who have a strong desire to stay active and feel good can do just that, if they set their minds to it. This blog’s motto is “start believeing you can” because much of how we feel begins with a mentality that we set.

If you’re not convinced, check out this video from June 1, 2015: Hariette Thompson, Rock ‘n Roll Marathon. It shows one determined, 92 year old woman crossing a marathon’s finish line and setting history. She is now the oldest female on earth to finish a marathon! WOW! 

 

Women of every age: There’s a lot of life to live and a lot to look forward to in every season. Cheers to being healthy and having some fun as we cruise down life’s highway!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz logo 2

References:

http://www.babycenter.com/0_surprising-facts-about-birth-in-the-united-states_1372273.bc

http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/planet32.htm

http://www.buzzfeed.com/buzzfeedshift/30-reasons-being-a-woman-is-awesome#.mv4RAZExK

http://www.foxsports.com/soccer/story/united-states-womens-national-team-womens-world-cup-roster-23-players-annoucement-041415

http://www.girlsontherun.org/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/09/30-advice_n_7514694.html

http://www.koasports.org/

http://www.livestrong.com/article/492350-physical-growth-development-for-early-adults/

http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/92-Year-Old-Seeks-To-Become-Oldest-Woman-to-Finish-Marathon-305609511.html

http://time.com/3644888/health-benefits-woman/

http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/anti-aging-diet

http://wellandgood.com/2012/05/04/50-and-fabulous-these-7-women-prove-that-fitness-is-the-fountain-of-youth-2/#50-and-fabulous-these-7-women-prove-that-fitness-is-the-fountain-of-youth-1