The likelihood for women to get the minimum exercise required to stay healthy after delivering a baby is less than similar women without kids.
A study in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport cites this tendency and highlights the importance of losing postpartum weight to avoid long-term problems like obesity, cardiovascular risk factors and diabetes.
Unfortunately there may be unrealistic expectations from the media as celebrities seem to get back to pre-pregnancy weight in very short order and societal pressures of a mother to be able to ‘have it all’ don’t help.
But getting exercise and staying as fit as possible is healthy for the mother, gives her more energy and is ultimately healthy for the baby.
A study done by researchers at the University of Wisconsin investigated the effect of walking while pushing a baby stroller in order to determine how much it might contribute to the health and fitness of the mother.
This might be an under-appreciated activity that seems mundane and if some mothers are unable to do much of their standard exercise routines at the gym, it could be a valuable tool to use to get back on track.
The study tested a number of young women by performing a maximal exercise test on a treadmill monitoring heart rate, oxygen consumption and perceived exertion (how hard they ‘felt’ they were working).
Then they had participants walk at different speeds with a 35-pound weight (simulating a one year-old) in a stroller and measured the same exercise variables. Walking burned more calories when pushing a stroller compared to walking alone, but the effect was more dramatic than expected.
The study found that exercise intensity and calorie burn were approximately 18 percent higher when walking at 3 MPH and 20 per cent higher when walking with a stroller at 3.5 mph.
Keep in mind that for many people 3.5 MPH might be considered a moderate to brisk walk.
Participants burned 6.2 calories per minute while pushing a stroller at 3 mph, and then 7.4 calories per minute while pushing a stroller at 3.5 mph. The study shows that level of intensity works out to burning between 370 to 450 calories per hour, which is comparable to mowing the lawn or riding a bike at 10 mph.
Walking uphill pushing a stroller increased the subject’s heart rates by about six percent with every 2.5 percent increase in uphill grade. The researchers tested uphill grades of 2.5, 5 and 7.5 percent grades.
The values obtained in the study were almost twice as high as previous values published in the standardized guides and tables. They had published walking with a stroller as 2.5 METS when in fact it is between 4 and 5 METS.
Fitness guidelines recommend that people exercise between 55 and 60 per cent of their maximum heart rate in order to improve cardiovascular fitness and will also contribute weight loss as well.
Pushing a stroller with a baby on flat ground at 3.5 MPH meets those criteria, and walking on a hill or running would increase the exercise benefits even more.
As far as losing weight is concerned, there are other things you can do to help.
An exclusively breastfed baby needs around 500 to 800 calories a day for healthy growth and development. Sustaining a baby on breast milk means you are putting out your own calories just by feeding your child, and the baby is obtaining vital nutrients and getting important physical contact.
Adjusting your dietary intake can help a great deal as well.
When you were pregnant, you might have adjusted your eating habits to support your baby’s growth and development. After pregnancy, proper nutrition is still important – especially if you’re breast-feeding.
Getting outdoors and walking (or running) with your baby in a stroller can deliver much-needed exercise as well as provide the baby and you with an outing.
As always, stay in touch with your family doctor for direction and guidance on all health matters.
Kerry Senchyna holds a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology and is owner of West Coast Kinesiology
in Maple Ridge