Is high school the last time you saw the inside of a gym? Have you always sat on the sidelines cheering while others played sports? If you have never exercised, fear not: You can start during pregnancy. Intense sports are out, but if you have your doctor's approval, you can begin a fitness walking program.
You may not think of walking as exercise, but it is in fact a very effective fitness activity, particularly during pregnancy. The list of all the great things walking does goes on and on. It burns calories, tones your muscles, increases circulation, and prevents constipation. What's more, it reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, colon cancer, depression, and anxiety. It helps control weight; it builds and maintains healthy bones, muscles, and joints; and it promotes psychological well-being. And if that's not enough, it also enhances the quality of your sleep, reduces stress, and improves self-esteem.
How to start. The first step in a walking program is to walk as fast as you can for 45 minutes straight, right? Wrong! The first step is to focus on one thing and one thing only: making walking a daily habit. That means starting with 10-minute walks five to seven days the first week, even if you are fit enough to walk much longer. After you've worked 10-minute walks into your daily schedule, try adding 5 minutes to two or three walks a week, gradually working your way up to 30-minute walks five to seven days a week. If you increase your time and feel like it's too much, go back to the previous week's schedule.
It's important not to do too much too soon. If you overexert yourself, your muscles will feel sore, and you may feel discouraged. Add minutes to your workouts gradually.
The foundation of a good program. Here are some tips concerning how to build a walking program:
- Start by buying a good pair of shoes. Specially designed walking shoes are important because they support the walking motion in a way other shoes do not. Choose a walking shoe with good support, a moderate amount of cushioning (more if you're overweight), a roomy toe box, and a low, beveled heel that accommodates the heel-to-toe roll of walking. Have your feet measured, because foot size can change during pregnancy. Try on shoes at the end of the day, when your feet are at their largest. Find a style that fits well in the heel. Resist the temptation to buy shoes that are too big; they'll slip off your heels as you walk.
- Dress for success in comfortable clothes. Layers are best--you can peel them off one by one if you get too warm.
- As you walk be mindful of your posture. Contract your abdominal muscles, keep your chest open and lifted, let your shoulders drop down, and breathe deeply with your chest. Keep your head in line with the vertical line of your spine and keep your chin parallel to
- Walk at a comfortable speed and with a natural stride length.
- Breathe rhythmically and mindfully. Allow your breathing to fall into rhythm with your steps. Enjoy the feeling of taking deep, full breaths.
- Stay hydrated. Drink a glass of water before your walk and take water with you.
- Plan your walking routes with restrooms in mind in case nature calls while you're exercising.
- Consider using a pedometer. It's an inexpensive way to measure your steps, and it provides motivation and a sense of accomplishment. Aim for 10,000 steps each day.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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