A pill to replace exercise

So we’re a step closer to a pill that can replace exercise.

I know that there is an obesity crisis and things need to be done but this makes me sad, as if exercise is a thing to be avoided.

This news came out the same day as my car broke down.  I had to cancel a class and then arrange a lift to my evening classes – I was particularly stressed by the time I got to the church ready to teach!!   But a healthy dose of exercise later I felt much better.

Benefits of exercise

From those three classes I:

  • reduced stress,
  • got stronger,
  • worked my cardiovascular system,
  • burned calories,
  • increased my metabolic rate,
  • downtrained my sympathetic nervous system,
  • connected with other women,
  • felt happy,
  • mobilised my joints,
  • kept my bones healthy and
  • stimulated my brain.

Amongst other things. Will a pill do all that?

JERF, CRAP and Clean Eating!

I had a request from one of my email subscribers to write about clean eating. Now those of you who know me will know that I’m not averse to eating cake or having a drink. To my mind, it’s just food – there is no point in labelling things good or bad.

 

But I do try to eat as healthily as possible – following the JERF principle of Just Eat Real Food.  I cook from scratch every day and avoid ready-meals – anything with a huge ingredient list is out!  I also try to avoid artificial sugars and manufactured sugars such as high fructose corn syrup. This often means that my best choice if I want something sweet is to make it myself!

The balance of food is worth looking at too – breakfast traditionally is very sugar and refined carbohydrate heavy. I never liked cereal but did love toast. Now I have egg most days and never get hungry mid-morning.
My evening meal also has a different balance – probably half the plate is vegetables and the rest is protein. It may not be necessary  to cut out carbohydrates but the portion size is important and also not relying on refined carbs such as pasta and white rice.
The other key element is drinking plenty of water – I have water on the go throughout the day and will get through a litre when I’m exercising.  When you think you want food it’s worth having a drink first as you may just be thirsty. And keeping a water diary can help if you’re not sure how much water you have – the advice is 6-8 glasses a day, just over a litre. Bear in mind if you’re breastfeeding or exercising you will need more.
If you want to go further with clean eating though an easy way to remember it is to cut the CRAP

  • Caffeine
  • Refined sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Processed food

The other things to bear in mind when it comes to health and fat loss though are all the non-food things that also have an affect. So instead of just focusing on food also bear in mind your stress levels and your sleep patterns.  I think if changing your food habits too much stresses you out not only will it be unsustainable but it may make you feel worse. Be kind to yourselves.

 

Further reading

Heal your diastasis with food!

Nutrition for the postnatal period

How you can help your pelvic floor

I was asked by someone this week about rehabbing the pelvic floor post birth, in preparation for getting back to running.  I was so pleased that she was aware of the importance of taking her time – things keep popping up in my timeline about postnatal classes where people are running with buggies, skipping and even doing jumping jacks! All of this can have a deleterious effect on the pelvic floor and continuing to overstress a weakened pelvic floor can lead to prolapse.

However taking your time, making a few lifestyle changes and building up core strength can mean that even if you’re currently experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction (any leaking, back pain, heaviness in the pelvis) you may be able to get back to your previous exercise routine.

I prolapsed after my first child and was given very little advice about it other than being told I would probably need a hysterectomy when I go through menopause.  Because of this experience I have spent my time learning more and applying it to my own life as well as in my work with others.

First thing I implemented was no impact.

As someone who wasn’t a runner, this wasn’t a big change.  But I did have to stop jumping around in my aerobics classes and also give my trampette a wide berth…!  I can now run for the bus without worrying and I played rounders in the summer where I was sprinting for quite a while with no effect.  So I could probably run now if I wanted to but I’m still choosing to stay low impact most of the time.

Second thing was no crunches

The downward pressure created by crunches/sit-ups will push on the pelvic floor.  Full planks and press-ups and exercises with both legs lifted also creates a lot of pressure and so I avoided them.  However there are alternatives – for example in press-ups performing them on an incline, plus incorporating crunchless core exercises – so there is no reason to stop exercising, just make a few changes.  Bear in mind that sitting straight up in bed is also a crunch (and how many times do you do that a night?) – I roll over to get out of bed instead.

It’s not all about what you shouldn’t do though. There are things that I needed to start doing:

  • alignment/posture

particularly the with respect to the pelvis.  Try tucking your tailbone under and bringing your hips towards your ribs.  Lift the pelvic floor now.  Then take your hips away from your ribs, allowing your lower back to arch more, then lift the pelvic floor.  Then bring yourself to a neutral pelvis where your level through the front and the back of the pelvis (think of it like a bowl) – the pelvic floor lift should feel easier in this position.  Pelvic floor works best when we are in alignment, with the head, shoulders, rib cage, pelvis and heels all stacked up in line

  • breathing

both looking at how you breathe during exercise and from day to day.  During exercises you need to breathe out on the effort and lift pelvic floor at the same time.  This also applies when you are lifting a weight – baby, shopping etc. – and also when you go from seated to standing (The knack – as you go from sit to stand but vice versa too).  The other aspect of breathing is to stop breath holding and sucking your stomach in.  When you breathe in your stomach should actually swell not suck in.  I see so many people who’s stomachs stay still when breathing and instead their shoulders lift.  Try lying on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.  Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach.  As you breathe in you should feel your chest move first then your stomach.  Your stomach lowers as you breathe out and then your chest.

All these changes I’ve made have meant that my prolapse has improved and I’m hoping to avoid that hysterectomy!  I know that there’s still work to do and I’m currently learning more about another part of the puzzle:

  • relaxation

stress can affect the pelvic floor, there’s also some evidence that lower limb injuries and back injuries will impact the pelvic floor too, even years after healing or the pain has stopped. There may also be scar tissue from episiotomies or tears.  I’ve just learnt some trigger point release for that – sitting on one of the spiky balls!  It’s uncomfortable but definitely has an effect – I will let you know how that goes!  And it’s also helped to introduce deep breathing, mindfulness and relaxation practices into my daily life.

 

So when looking at rehabbing the pelvic floor, it’s not just about a list of exercises to do – we need to think of the body as a whole and the pelvis at the centre of that, and looking at improving in all these areas

Happy New Year/You?!

I’m not really into New Years resolutions. And I’m definitely not into the the new year new you thing – there’s nothing wrong with the ‘old’ you!

But I am into goal setting.

I’ve just bought myself a shiny new business planner and right at the front is a blank page to fill in hopes and dreams for 2017. Most of mine are tied up with family life as I feel that’s the area that needs the most work done right now!

But there’s also some goals for me and my work too…

Now from the business coaching I’ve done the advice when goal setting is to make a plan and then break it into small manageable chunks. This way you’re less likely to get overwhelmed and more likely to see a result – this in turn will motivate you and keep you going on the next step.

Resolutions tend to be all or nothing.

And from the fitness world, we were taught to make sure we made SMART goals:

  • Specific – so not just “I’ll get healthy” but how? Doing what? Break it down
  • Measurable – can you track how you’re doing? Put numbers to your goals
  • Achievable – is the goal feasible
  • Relevant – important to you, not because everyone else is doing the same. The reason you make the goal may be the only motivating factor to keep going when things get hard
  • Time based – when will you do it by? Too far away and you’ll not work towards it, too soon and you’ll not get the chance to get it done.

So here’s my 5 top tips if you have made exercise part of your new year resolutions/goals:

  1. Add new things one at a time – don’t try to change everything at once. Go for somethings easy to start with that will encourage you to continue – eg drink more water, stand up every 20min, walk at lunchtime
  2. Put your exercise into your daily diary – block it out as your time so that it doesn’t always get left down to whether you have time left or not
  3. Combine exercise with something else – meet up with friends, walk to shops/school run
  4. Don’t feel you have to start on a Monday/ January 1st. Start as soon as you can

And don’t worry if things don’t go to plan. You haven’t failed. It’s just another day You’re not having to start from scratch.
Have a great start to 2017! And let me know if there’s any ways I can help you hit your goals

Is postnatal exercise just for YOU?

I saw an advert for a postnatal exercise class the other day that had a line about how mums were deciding to be selfish and take time for themselves.  Now I’m all for me-time as an essential part of a mums postnatal recovery and don’t see that as being selfish at all – in fact, if anything, mums aren’t selfish enough and always seem to put themselves at the bottom of the to do list.

But in addition to mums deserving to do something that benefits them, I also see so much benefit to the babies coming along to exercise classes too.

The NHS states that babies should be encouraged to be active throughout the day and avoid being sedentary for long periods of time – in car seats, pushchairs, bouncers etc.  This is why in my buggy class we tend to exercise in one area so that the babies can be let out on to the floor whenever possible!  And in Pilates, unless they’re sleeping, babies can get over an hour of play on the mat – giving them loads of room to roll, rock or for tummy time.

Babies getting the chance to be active along with their mums is good for two reasons:  first, they’ll see exercise as a normal and fun thing to do and secondly, they learn by copying.  Being active also helps the brain to develop.

There is some degree of sensory play in class as well – the balls, bands, mats and dumbbells are all a source of fascination.  One baby’s first crawl was because she wanted to get to the dumbbells!!  Outdoors the leaves and grass give vital feedback about their surroundings – and help their immune system too.  The fresh air is good for them and as an added bonus may help them sleep better!

The social aspect of the classes is also key – I know my daughter first started walking because she clocked an older child doing so.  I watched her watching him and as soon as she got home she grabbed hold of the high chair and off she went!!  There is also a lot of enjoyment in just watching their mums – I’ve a few video clips of babies laughing at the exercise!  And in Pilates there is often a very chilled feeling to the start of the class as the babies watch the flowing movement – they sometimes seem mesmerised!!

There have been lots of developmental firsts in my classes, from first rolling and crawling to first standing unaided and first steps.  Given time and space and a great example from mum gives the babies lots of opportunity to develop – so turns out class is as good for them as it is for you!!

Click here for a great pdf on physical activity guidelines for under 5s from the NHS

Heal your diastasis with food!

I really enjoyed listening to a webinar from Jessica Drummond of the Integrative Women’s Health Institute last week.

One of the sections that I was particularly interested in was on postnatal soft tissue and wound recovery – applicable particularly for those with diastasis or a c-section and perineum wound.

My advice nutritionally has always been to use bone broth either in soups or gravies but her information will give you a few more tools to use!

Eating foods that are high in collagen can help to repair and build damaged tissues – this includes wounded and strained core and pelvic floor muscles.

Good sources of lysine and proline, the amino acids that build collagen, are meat, chicken, fish and egg whites. For vegetarians – peanuts and wheat germ.

But there are other nutrients necessary. Vitamin C is destroyed when collagen is made so your intake of citrus fruits, strawberries and dark leafy greens, for example, will need to increase.

Hyaluronic acid is needed to create bundles using collagen. It can be found in sweet potatoes, avocado, mango and bone soup – using bone broth or whole fish.

The final nutrient she mentioned is zinc. This can be found in sesame seeds, cashews, dates, linseed, cocoa, beef, blue cheese and eggs. The healthy treats we have after postnatal Pilates should take care of that!

Looking at the list, an all-encompassing recipe would be a Chinese style soup of bone broth, chicken pieces, kale or pak choy, sprinkled with sesame seeds or cashew nuts.

Perfect for the summer we’re having!!

5 tips for preventing back pain when caring for children

As I was walking home from class yesterday a father and his toddler walked past me.  The dad was taking tiny baby steps in time with his son, was crouching in a squat position to be at his son’s level and was leaning over to one side in order to hold his hand.  This reminded me of how Becky used to love to hold my finger as she walked – up until her hand was big enough to hold mine.  And how it hurt my back let alone nearly dislocated my finger!!!

The trouble with having bad posture when you’re caring for children is that you’re going to repeat that same position over and over again each day and this will take it’s toll on your body.  And because of the interconnectedness of our body parts, that pain could show up anywhere, with the back often being the prime suspect.

Here’s my 5 top positions to be aware of your posture:

  1. Bending over to change nappies and other jobs at waist height – stay in close, hinge from the hips and keep the upper back in alignment. You’re trying not to just round your shoulders and hang from your ribs.  If the task is lower down, bend at the knees into a squat or lunge
  2. Getting out of bed – roll over onto your side and push yourself up. Try not to just sit straight up – this causes pressure through your stomach and could prevent diastasis from improving as well affecting your pelvic floor and back.  I demonstrate this on video here
  3. Pushing the pushchair/shopping trolley – stand upright, not too far away, with your arms slightly bent and think of powering through your legs, it’s a great bum work out!  Don’t rest your weight on the pushchair and don’t think of it as pushing with your arms – your whole body is doing the job.  Applies even more so when going uphill!!
  4. Picking baby up from the floor – bend at the knees into a squat or lunge keeping your back in alignment, pull baby in close, exhale as stand up (using the knack).   The same with car seats – and it’s better if you can carry them close with both hands when baby is small.  Picking up from the cot you need to stay in close and again bend at the knees and hips
  5. Carrying baby – try not to lean back to rest baby on your chest.  Drop your ribs down and keep them in alignment with your hips – you will feel your core tire quicker but that will just remind you to change positions.  Try and keep baby high and in the centre.  If you carry to one side keep them high and let their head rest on your shoulder – try not to push your hip out and try to vary sides rather than always favouring one

Bear in mind that any continuing pregnancy conditions need to be assessed – pelvic girdle pain, piriformis/sciatica, diastasis, pelvic floor dysfunction.  These can all contribute to back pain as well.

 

Walk this way!

I’m a bit obsessed with walking…  There are so many health benefits to it and it’s so easy to fit into your day and yet I read a report that said that 45% of people would rather take public transport than a short stroll.  And 1 in 20 would use public transport rather than walk for 5 minutes!  And yet walking is the easiest way to fit in the suggested amount of exercise we should be doing plus is like medicine for all the health benefits it has!

For those of you, like me, with older kids who really aren’t excited about the prospect of going for a walk (to say the least) I highly recommend Geocaching!!  Unlike golf – “a good walk spoiled” (Mark Twain) – geocaching is a good walk made better – by a treasure hunt!  Becky even did a talk about it in school this week so must enjoy it more than I thought.  You can find out more here

And remember Mums, Tums & Buggies has plenty of walking in it if you fancy joining us!

Walk this way

When I was a kid I walked with very turned in feet.  My family did what lots of families do – mocked me for it!  So having not seen any kind of specialist I forced myself to walk with straight feet – I now have a twisted shin for my trouble!  So it’s always worth working on any of these postural changes incrementally – just play around with how it feels and notice your gait rather than aiming for some big change.  And there are plenty of specialists who can help if you need it.

Here are some steps you can start with

  • feet should be facing forwards – not turning in or out
  • feet bony hip width apart – in standing and when moving.  Feet should stay in parallel and your weight shifts slightly from side to side, rather than crossing into centre like you’re walking a tight rope or waddling!
  • land mid foot and roll through – your toes should hinge and be the last part to leave the floor
  • push backwards with foot – instead of falling forwards you should be using your leg like an oar.  So the leg spends most of the time behind the body and swings forward from the hip.  Knees shouldn’t be bending that much

Posture is important – the way we walk can have an affect on our pelvis and back health too.  For those of you with buggies, try to walk as you would if you weren’t pushing – the number of people I see leaning forward at a 45 angle…  Not great for the back and a missed opportunity to work your bum muscles! Your arms should be relaxed and think of the legs driving the movement – so you’re not really pushing at all.  Another tip I saw is to use just one arm, and stand off to the side slightly.

The other thing that is worth noting is that the way you walk also depends on the reason for the walk.  If like me you’re always rushing on the school run it’s harder to focus on your form.  In Germany they’ve actually had to put lights in the pavement so people on their mobile phones know when to stop!  Obviously you can’t keep good posture if your chin is dropping onto your chest as you check social media… But also one of the benefits of walking is the chance to think, to look and to be in the moment for once.

“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” – Friedrich Nietzsche

When can I run again?

If you search the internet for the answer to starting running again after baby you may well be confused by the information out there.  There are some people who are back to their normal regime way before 6 weeks postpartum, others who advocate avoiding all sorts of exercise.  So what’s right for you?

First up you shouldn’t return to formal exercise until 6 weeks postnatal (8-10 if you’ve had a caesarean) and you should be getting the all clear from your doctor, although I know some doctors wait to combine your check-up with babies 8 week check.  And some doctors don’t do them at all now.

However once you’ve had your check that doesn’t mean you can just start up where you left off.  At 6 weeks only the initial healing of your body has been completed – full healing could take a year or more!

Returning to impact exercise too early can reduce pelvic floor strength and lead to incontinence or prolapse so it is worth taking things slowly and building up gradually.

So once you’ve had your check, and assuming you have no pelvic floor issues or diastasis, it is fine to introduce low impact exercise and specific postnatal classes.  Body conditioning classes are also fine but need to be lower weights and avoid direct work on your stomach muscles (i.e. no sit-ups or crunches or planks).  Over the next few weeks you can gradually increase the intensity and the weights.

And then what, what’s the magic number of when you can start running/crunching/go to hardcore classes?

Unfortunately there is no definitive answer.  Some say 4 months, others 6, still others a year.  I thought I’d been conservative waiting 5 months after a C-section before then teaching a high impact aerobics class.  I wasn’t and I prolapsed because of it, despite having no warning signs so I do tend to err on the side of caution with mums who come along to classes.

So the only real answer to “when?” has to be – listen to your body.  If you have any pelvis or lower back pain after exercise, a feeling of heaviness in the vagina, any bulging or straining or doming of the stomach or the pelvic floor or any leaking these are all a sign that that exercise is too much for you at this particular time.  As is shaking during an exercise or breath holding.  Doesn’t mean this will be for always – just at the moment your body isn’t ready and you need to modify the exercise until you are stronger.

This should apply whenever you’re exercising not just in the early postnatal period.  Your form is the most important thing to be mindful of when exercising and how your body is feeling.  There is always a way to make an exercise easier or to bring the intensity down.

Other things to bear in mind when exercising:

  • tiredness – fatigue can lead to injury as you push yourself through
  • sore breasts – if you can feed before exercise that can help.  A decent sports bra is important too.  There is such a thing as a feeding sports bra although they can be quite expensive.
  • loose joints – the effects of pregnancy hormones on your joints can last around 3 months post birth.  If you’re breastfeeding the effects are thought to last until 3 months after you finish feeding.

So bear these in mind when you want to start a particular exercise regime.  You can practice exhaling on exertion and lifting the pelvic floor before the 6 weeks (once any perineal damage is healed) – this way the core is protected and you will be rebuilding the body from inside out!

Pelvic floor first is a great website that’s worth visiting.  Their Returning to sport pdf gives a timeline of what’s recommended at various stages.

And remember, all my classes are pelvic floor and tummy safe!

The last month of pregnancy

Here are some guidelines for the last month of pregnancy – look at which ones suit your lifestyle and start to incorporate them!

Preparation at this stage can increase the chance of a birth with minimal intervention and tissue damage and help to facilitate your recovery, including bonding with your baby and your ability to breastfeed.

Optimal foetal positioning:

  • Avoid bucket seat positions where your pelvis tips under – especially be mindful when driving, at work or when relaxing at home.  Try to keep your hips higher than your knees – sit on your birthing ball where possible!
  • Sleep on your left side – don’t worry if you move, just start out on your left
  • Pelvic mobility exercises in different positions – standing, leaning, on all 4s or on birthing ball.  Sways, rocks, tilts, circles, figures of eight
  • Exercises I’ve shown you in class to encourage baby into the most favourable position
  • Move daily, preferably outdoors

Preparing the pelvic floor and cervix:

  • Perineal massage
  • Kegels especially focussing on the relaxation phase.  You can also try J breathing to help
  • Eutonia – sitting on the noodle daily!!
  • Intercourse with deep ejaculation (semen softens cervix)

Mental and emotional preparation:

  • Visualize your perfect birth – in as much detail as you can, the positions you take, who’s there, how it goes
  • Don’t watch/listen to birth horror stories – no One Born Every Minute for now!
  • Watch beautiful birth videos (YouTube)
  • Verbalize fears – write them down – then work through them
  • Read affirmations – eg. “I look forward to meeting my baby”, “I trust my body to birth my baby”, “contractions help to bring my baby to my arms”, “my baby is happy and healthy”.  Read more examples on the app In Shape Moms (affirmations are free).  Try to write your own!

https://itunes.apple.com/tr/app/in-shape-moms/id463411926?mt=8

Prepare tissues and systems with nutrition:

  • Avoid processed foods and just eat real food!
  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet – avoid wheat, sugar, dairy, processed foods
  • Add more gluten-free carbs to your diet – sweet potato, rice
  • Add good fats – coconut milk/oil, avocado, fish, nuts
  • Eat foods high in iron – green veg, walnuts, almonds, meat
  • Take probiotics
  • Eat 4 dates per day – this helps to keep the waters intact which in turn can lessen the pain of contractions
  • Stop taking multi-vitamins especially those containing iron – inhibits prostaglandins which help soften cervix
  • Stay hydrated – can include raspberry leaf tea now which may help contractions

Rest

  • Try to establish a regular sleep cycle – this helps regulate hormones
  • Take naps where possible
  • Reduce stress – use your breathing, soften your face, avoid stressful situations
  • Limit social agenda – don’t try to fit everything in
  • Prepare for the postnatal period – try to enlist other people’s help for household tasks or else build up a bank of frozen homecooked meals
  • Spend time outdoors, preferably in the sun (!!)
  • Favour activities that make you happy and so increases oxytocin – massage, music, sex, cuddling

Do what preparation you can beforehand and then when it all starts know that you and your baby are fully prepared for what’s to come – don’t try to control it, go with it!