Healthista’s MumBack blogger, journalist Sarah Maber, charts the journey of getting her body and life back after having children. This week – finding moments of stealth exercise to fit into her day, like doing the plank in the living room (and if she has to do it, so does everyone)…
I recently realised my body has evolved into a child-raising machine. Four years of buggy pushing have given me the hands and forearms of an ex pat pensioner – they are all crinkly and deep-tanned. I am right-handed and pick up children with my right arm, sitting them on my right hip. The result is that my left arm is scrawny and runt-like while my right rivals Serena Williams’ and my pelvis is all out of kilter.
I also spend more time than is good for me sitting down and as a result my bum has grown an extra layer of fat to ensure maximum comfort when seated. I sit down to put my shoes on, sit on the edge of the bath to wash the children, sit to chop vegetables at the kitchen table. When I am not sitting, I’m stooping. I stoop to get the children in and out of the car. I stoop to help them put on clothes, shoes and coats on. The frantic couple of hours that are tea-bath-bed involve too much stooping to list here. At 8pm I sit down again with an audible groan of pleasure, then stay sitting until bedtime.
The perma-sitting problem has become much worse since Seth started at a new nursery 30 minutes drive away – there is now no natural part of my day which involves a walk. As a result, my body has started to rebel. It is harder to unfurl after a long-ish car journey. I am stiff in the mornings. I used to do ballet and run and felt proud of my strong core; now it is so weak that any prolonged standing leaves me gasping for Nurofen.
This is clearly a heinous state of affairs. I am desperately in need of a tone-up, but it is nigh on impossible to clear two and a half hours for a session at the gym. Until now, my attitude has always been to wait it out –I won’t always be so stretched, and once both kids are at school there will be plenty of time to get a daily workout in.
But I’m aware that my sedentary lifestyle is rubbing off on my daughter Martha; while Seth, now 3, is still pelts down the road like a wind-up toy once released from the buggy, Martha is growing increasingly averse to walking and insists on climbing into the buggy as soon as Seth vacates it. This has become such a regular event that Seth triumphantly announces: ‘Martha’s turn!’ once he’s let loose.
Recently, my friend Monique came to stay. She is a mother of three boys under five, has no help with childcare, and a husband whose job as a stand-up comic means she is housebound of an evening. But physically, she has never looked better. Her arms were taut and enviably flab-free; her waist was defined and her tummy tucked in. I asked for her secret over a glass of wine and she whispered: ‘I reckon it’s the planking.’ ‘Planking?’ ‘Yes planking. The boys and I plank together.’ She jumped up to demonstrate. ‘Easy. Whenever we are watching telly together we do it.’
I watch. She has indeed honed her skills as an expert planker, planking for entire minutes when I can manage 20 seconds. ‘Just practice!’ she says gaily. But I observe her over the weekend. And it’s not just the planking that has reaped such amazing physical rewards, though it has undoubtedly helped. It’s her commitment to building in little moments of activity which alone mean nothing but added together make a big difference.
Monique has mastered stealth exercise; exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise but that all adds up to a stronger, sleeker, self. A walk to the shops here; a run up the stairs there; an appetite for playing physical games with the kids that means she is consistently exercising without having to structure her day around a time-consuming workout. I’m convinced this is the answer – and increasingly, so are the experts. We might not have the time or inclination to become gym bunnies or yoga devotees, but small adjustments, like standing while talking on the phone, going over to talk to a colleague rather than sending an email, or simply taking the stairs all help.
Today after lunch, what I really wanted to do was curl up on the sofa with a cuppa and read endless books to Seth – I felt tired and needed to rest. Instead, I asked if he wanted to go into the garden for a game of bat and ball. He was delighted, and I let the game drift on for an hour, rather than wrapping it up after ten minutes. We all walked to the pool at the weekend, and I’ve made a big effort to leave the buggy at home. Journeys to the shops and park are taking a whole lot longer, but I hope we will all feel better for it. And now? Now it’s the News at Ten, and I’m off to plank.
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