While I was in the hospital after giving birth to our first son, Joey, my husband wanted to make an offer on a house I had never seen. We'd been trying to move from our condo in the city to a home in the suburbs for a year. I was on pain meds and delirious after 20-plus hours of labor followed by a C-section, but I trusted his judgment.
On the drive to see our house for the first time, I had butterflies. When my husband turned onto our street, I looked at him in amazement. Really? He drove up, up, up an enormous hill. The house we were scheduled to close on in six weeks sat right at the top. Living in the city had made walking everywhere easy, but the hill made me worry that I'd be too dependent on my car. As we ascended, I noticed neighborhood kids, buckled into their car seats, raising their hands and yelling "Wheee!" as they were driven down.
But two months later, we moved in anyway -- the white front porch, the gorgeous landscaping, and the fenced yard were too great to pass up. With my doctor's okay, I strapped Joey, about 9 weeks old, into the carrier to go for a walk. I hated how steep our hill was; nothing about it made me feel like yelling "Wheee!" I barely made it to the driveway next door when I feared my uterus might drop out. But thanks in part to daily Dairy Queen Blizzards during my pregnancy, I really needed to lose weight. Right then and there I made it my mission to master the hill.
Every day, Joey and I walked a little farther down. One mailbox at a time, we finally made it to the bottom. But on the return climb, my lungs were on fire and my legs felt heavier than drenched diapers. I'd stop frequently to stretch my hamstrings and quads, put my hands behind my head, and breathe deeply. But being on the hill for the 2-mile trek distracted me from my anxieties: Is Joey getting enough milk? Will I ever find time for my husband again? Was resigning from teaching to be a stay-at-home mom the right thing to do? Exercising gave me extra oomph to deal with my fears. My baby and I also bonded on the hill, especially since it was usually a cry-free experience. The lovely smell of the top of his head, our heartbeats being pressed together, the fresh air -- it was all good.
After I had tackled the hill with Joey in his carrier, I tried the stroller. It seemed most moms with a stroller avoided hills, and I could see why: It took weeks before I could get back home without stopping. But soon, my pre-pregnancy clothes fit. And before long, they fit better. More important, I felt better. Even if I had been up with the baby the night before, even if I had mastitis (again), even if I couldn't remember the last time I talked about anything else besides Joey, conquering the hill for those 90 minutes every morning empowered me.
Then, we started walking the hill twice a day, even in the rain: I held an umbrella over Joey, nestled in his carrier. When he was 4 months old, people began to notice my weight loss.
Five years later, I was pushing both Joey and his 2-year-old brother in a double stroller on that hill. Going down was tricky: I had to keep all that weight from pulling me with it. And pushing back up -- yikes! I moved very, very slowly, leaning forward until my chest was almost parallel to the sidewalk and I needed to stand on my tiptoes. My husband (who played college basketball) tried it once, gave up, and announced, "You are freakishly strong!" Even the mailman, who got used to seeing me on the hill, was impressed and cheered me on: "You go, Mama!"
Sadly, as my boys got a little older and more active, they outgrew their love of our long walks and the stroller. But I wasn't about to break up with my hill. So I decided to challenge myself again: to run it. "You can do it," my husband said and then downloaded some Rusted Root onto my iPod.
Running down my hill exhilarates me. Even though every jiggly step reminds me of my problem areas, the pounding also makes me feel strong. I imagine stomping on something annoying -- laundry, bills, temper tantrums -- with every stride.
But the running back up? I started mailbox by mailbox. With every run I tried to add one more. For what seemed like forever, I could not get past the white mailbox that was only four houses from the top. I wanted to quit.
But I didn't. The day I finally ran all the way down and up my hill, I cheered and did a little dance. I called my husband, crying. "I did it!" I exclaimed. After we hung up, I turned and karate-kicked the air. Take that, white mailbox!
It's hard to believe that the feature of our home that made me uncomfortable is now one of my favorite things about it. Thanks, hill -- for helping me to lose two rounds of baby weight, for helping me through those baby blues, and for helping me realize I can do anything.
Take Your Workout Up A Notch
Walking or running uphill is a great way to make the most of a short workout. Exercising on an incline forces your body to work harder, so you?ll burn 50 percent more calories each minute than you would on level ground, says Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. Going uphill tones your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves; downhill exercise shapes quads and calves.
Some tips to pump up your workout:
Ease Into It
For every minute you walk or run uphill, spend three minutes on a flat surface (so if you run uphill for three minutes on a treadmill, switch to a lower-grade surface for the next nine). If you're outside and don?t have access to level ground, alternate between intervals of walking and running, or walking quickly and more slowly. Once your workout starts getting easier you can run, or walk at a brisker pace, for longer periods.
Lean Forward Slightly When Going Up
Lean forward slightly when going up, but don't lean far or you'll place extra stress on your back. Swing your arms to work your whole body.
When Climbing Uphill
When climbing uphill, focus on pushing through your heels to work your glutes and hamstrings.
Don't Forget to Breathe!
People tend to hold their breath when exercise becomes intense. Regular breathing helps you move more efficiently.
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Parents magazine.