Walk Off the Baby Weight

Our ultimate walking guide (with and without the stroller) will help you shed those postpartum pounds -- fast.

Walking is an ideal exercise for new moms. But it's tough to carve out a 30-minute block of time to work up a sweat when you're dealing with nursing sessions and diaper changes. The good news: All it takes is several short bursts of activity throughout the day to lose weight and improve your cardiovascular fitness.

"Fitting in three ten-minute walks is just as effective as heading out for a half hour," says Glenn A. Gaesser, Ph.D., a professor of exercise physiology at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. "The key is to burn as many calories as you can in each short period of time." To lose weight, Gaesser suggests aiming for 200 minutes of exercise each week. Stick to it, and you could lose as much as eight pounds in six months.

Of course, new moms should focus on more than just weight loss. "Walking will also reduce your stress levels and help fight the postpartum blues," says RoseMarie Alfieri, a certified personal trainer and coauthor of Walk the Weight Away! That's why she's designed four different treks to fit whatever mood you're in.

INTERVAL WALK

The burn: 80 to 100 calories in ten minutes.

Baby on board? Try this walk with your baby in a stroller or in a front carrier -- or go it alone.

How to do it: This walk is marked by two speeds. You'll start with one minute of walking at a moderately brisk pace (a 13- to 14-minute mile). At the end of one minute, switch to a very fast pace (a 12-minute mile) for a minute. You'll repeat each of these one-minute intervals five times.

Form facts: When you're switching to the faster-paced walk, take shorter, quicker steps -- don't lengthen your stride. And if you're walking alone or with your baby in a front carrier, pump your arms more rapidly to pick up speed. No matter what, don't slow down too much during the slower minutes -- you still want to maintain a challenging pace.

Quick tip: If you don't want to be constantly eyeing your watch, time your intervals using telephone poles. Simply switch paces after every five you pass. (You'll still need a watch or alarm to tell you when you've walked for the entire ten minutes.)

2. Calf Stretch and Shin Strengthener: Stand with your right foot two to three feet behind your left foot. Keeping your right heel on the floor and your right leg straight, lean forward and bend your left knee (your knee should line up over your toes). You'll feel a stretch in your right calf; hold for ten seconds. Now straighten your left leg and raise your left toes off the ground to stretch your left shin. Hold for ten seconds, then switch legs and repeat.

3. Hip Stretch: Stand with your left side about a foot away from a wall. Place your left hand on the wall at shoulder height, then slowly lean your left hip toward the wall until you feel a stretch. Hold for ten seconds, then switch sides and repeat.

ROLLING-HILLS WALK

The burn: 100 calories in ten minutes.

Baby on board? This is the perfect walk to do with a stroller (pushing the extra weight up the hills will help tone your butt and legs). Or try picking up your pace if you're hiking the hills on your own.

How to do it: First, find an area with several hills or inclines. If the terrain near you is mostly flat, choose one big hill that you can walk up and down repeatedly. Try for a moderate, comfortable pace (approximately a 14- to 15-minute mile). You'll naturally slow down as you push the stroller up inclines and gain speed as you walk downhill.

Form facts: Keeping your back flat, lean your upper body slightly forward at the waist and use your quad, hamstring, and butt muscles to power you up the hill. As you descend, straighten your body, keep your elbows and knees bent so you don't stress your joints, and be sure to maintain a firm grip on the stroller using both hands. Finally, keep your abdominal muscles tight throughout.

Quick tip: The uphills will feel less strenuous if you take short, quick steps; when you crest the hill, lengthen your stride. For safety's sake, always choose hills with sidewalks so you'll be out of the way of traffic, and make sure your baby is strapped snugly into her stroller.

SPEED WALK

The burn: 100 calories in ten minutes.

Baby on board? Yes, but since it's difficult to maintain such a fast pace with your baby in a front carrier, stick to pushing a stroller. Or head out on your own so you can pump your arms and burn even more calories.

How to do it: During this intense walk on flat ground, maintain as fast a pace as possible (shoot for an 11- to 12-minute mile) without slowing down for the entire ten minutes. You should be breathing rapidly but still have no trouble speaking in short sentences.

Form facts: Keep your head up and shoulders back and relaxed. Your heels should strike the ground first (roll onto the balls of your feet before pushing off with your toes). Don't hunch over if you're pushing a stroller -- stand upright and maintain a loose grip on the handlebars. If you're walking alone, pump your arms forward and back (not side to side), keep your elbows bent and close to your body, and never let your hands go higher than your shoulders.

Quick tip: To maintain your pace, focus on the rhythm of your walk. Repeating a mantra inside your head -- such as "step, step, step" or "pick 'em up, lay 'em down" -- can keep you from slowing down. In addition, always look ten feet ahead of you so that you have time to slow down if anything's in your path.

MEDITATIVE WALK

The burn: 40 calories in ten minutes.

Baby on board? Definitely -- your baby will love the calming cadence of this walk. Use a front pack or stroller.

How to do it: This recharging stroll isn't meant to burn tons of calories. Instead, it'll lift your spirits and help you relax. Simply take short, easy strides, and move at a comfortable pace. If your baby is riding in a front carrier, let your arms hang at your sides. Spend the walk focusing on clearing your mind of stressful thoughts.

Form facts: Try not to hunch over -- a natural tendency when you're carrying your baby in a front pack. Instead, cradle the underside of the carrier in your hands to take the weight off your back, neck, and shoulders.

Quick tip: Turn your walk into a mini meditation session by focusing on your breathing. Inhale through your nose for four seconds, then exhale out your mouth while you take in the sights around you. If you can spare the time -- and your baby's enjoying himself -- walk for a total of 20 minutes to double your calorie burn.

How Fast Am I Going?
Don't know what a 12- or 15-minute mile feels like? One of the easiest ways to gauge your speed is to measure a mile of flat terrain with your car's odometer, then see how long it takes you to walk it. (For example, at a 12-minute-mile pace you should complete five sixths of the mile in ten minutes.) Another option: Buy an inexpensive pedometer.

Stretch It Out

While walking is low-impact, you should still stretch once a day after exercising to prevent muscle soreness. Try these moves from Tom Seabourne, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at Northeast Texas Community College, in Mount Pleasant.

1. Quadriceps Stretch: Holding onto a tree or park bench for support, stand with your knees slightly bent and toes pointing straight ahead. Now bend your left leg behind you -- drawing your heel toward your butt -- and grab onto your foot with your left hand. Hold for ten seconds, then switch legs.

2. Calf Stretch and Shin Strengthener: Stand with your right foot two to three feet behind your left foot. Keeping your right heel on the floor and your right leg straight, lean forward and bend your left knee (your knee should line up over your toes). You'll feel a stretch in your right calf; hold for ten seconds. Now straighten your left leg and raise your left toes off the ground to stretch your left shin. Hold for ten seconds, then switch legs and repeat.

3. Hip Stretch: Stand with your left side about a foot away from a wall. Place your left hand on the wall at shoulder height, then slowly lean your left hip toward the wall until you feel a stretch. Hold for ten seconds, then switch sides and repeat.

Copyright © 2004 Sarah Bowen Shea. Reprinted with permission of Parents magazine April 2004 issue.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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