Women’s Health & Fitness Programs
Many important health issues for girls and women involve matters of reproductive
health, childbearing, fertility and aging. Research informs us that an active, healthy
lifestyle provides a number of benefits throughout a woman’s life span:
reduced discomforts from pregnancy, labor, birth, recovery & menopause
reduced risk of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and premature birth
potentially shorter active labor and reduced risk of cesarean delivery
more rapid return to joyful activities, less excess weight following birth
mother-infant interaction, leading to infant psychomotor enhancement
reduced rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes
reduction of some cancers, osteoporosis, falls and loss of muscle mass
improved social support, networking and stress management skills
greater belief in one’s ability to be strong and capable (self-efficacy)
In Part 4 of our continuing series on DTP’s offspring, meet Renee Crichlow, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer from Barbados, whose REAC Fitnessbusiness includes Mum-me 2 B Fitness Series (prenatal), After Baby Fitness Series (postnatal) and 6 week Jumpstart Body Transformation Program (general female population).
See photos and read more about Renee’s business on the DTP Blog here. The adventures of one of her students is featured in a recent series of articles in Barbados Today.
Renee is a women’s fitness specialist, targeting all stages of a woman’s life cycle from adolescent, child bearing years, prenatal, postnatal to menopause. I design various exercise programmes to help women get into shape. As a trainer, friend and coach, I am committed to guiding, motivating and educating women to exceed their fitness goals and to permanently adopt healthy lifestyles. She started studying with DTP in March 2012 and completed the practicum in May 2012.
I most enjoy the good feeling associated with knowing that I am helping women to positively change their lives through exercise. I have learned that we are connected and not separate from each other. Sharing our challenges and triumphs enable each of us to grow and have a sense of belonging like a sisterhood. The baby and pregnancy stories always amaze me and I learn a lot considering I don’t have children of my own. I am also fascinated by the fact that as the pregnant mummies bellies grow, they are still moving with lots of energy and I feed off of that energy. I just love working with pregnant ladies and mothers.
It’s time to hit the main theme again: Aerobically fit women are at reduced risk for things that go wrong in pregnancy, improve their tolerance for labor and birth, and recover more rapidly in the postpartum period.
Moving into Motherhood
The arrival of the holidays provides a good reason to bring this up, yet again! Pregnancy is a gateway time in women’s lives…we become more aware of our bodies, our sensations, our feelings, our needs, and how versatile and amazing our bodies are. We can make people with our bodies! During pregnancy, we often take precautions…we eat more carefully, avoid toxins, try to avoid stress. When the holidays arrive, we see indulgent behavior in a different light.
Yet, even with all this focus on behavior, we sometimes miss the biggest aid to a healthy pregnancy: physical fitness. Research clearly demonstrates that fit women do better, are healthier and happier. More and more in the U.S. we see disorders of normal organ function that accompany sedentary pregnancy.
Let’s look at this a little closer (yes, I am going to repeat myself some more, but it is an important concept to spread). We live in a body model that rewards an active lifestyle.
Being sedentary causes things to go wrong
Not moving creates biochemical imbalances because the cardiovascular system atrophies and molecules created in the brain or brought in through the digestion may not get where they need to go for a healthy metabolism.
Your cardiovasculature is the highway that brings usable substances to the place they are used. You have to help it grow and develop, use it to pump things around and give it a chance to be healthy. Aerobic fitness does all these things.
Advice for young women of childbearing age
If you are thinking of pregnancy, have recently become pregnant, or work with women of childbearing age, we encourage you to open avenues of activity for yourself or others in this population. You can learn more from our blog dancingthrupregnancy.wordpress.com. You can seek out local pre/postnatal fitness experts on this site. Yoga is nice…we use some of it in our work, along other specific exercises for which there is a direct health benefit. But, we also see yoga converts who come into our program in mid pregnancy unable to breathe after walking up a flight of stairs. How will they do in labor? Not as well as those who have been doing aerobic dance or an elliptical machine 2 or 3 times a week.
The AHA/ACSM guidelines for the amount of aerobic exercise needed to improve cardiovascular status hold true for pregnant women just as they do for the rest of the population – a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of vigorous, or a combination of these levels of intensity, per week. If you are not getting this level of activity, you are putting your health – and that of your offspring – at risk.
Okay, be here now: This is about a really major experience…bringing human consciousness into the world…opening a door to a room of love in your heart that you can only know by giving birth to this person…changing your identity forever.
Getting your mind around the image: If you have not taken the time yet to get your mind around this, take a moment. Breathe in deeply. Gently blow the air out. Repeat. Repeat. Let go of any resistance. Slow your heart. Slow your mind. Consider: Your body has the power to create a person. Your body has the power to expel this person when the rent is up.
Your brain, glands and organs are having a conversation with the baby’s brains, glands and organs. At some point, this discussion reaches a place where it is time to end this arrangement of two people sharing one body. It is true that occasionally the passenger doesn’t want to leave, but that is rare. And, we have a remedy for that. Let’s just focus now on the what happens when it’s time to go.
Labor starts how? Well, it depends. Sometimes contractions start in fits and spurts and take a while to get organized. Sometimes they start strongly from the get go, and for others the process of getting rolling can take a few days. Sometimes it starts early, and sometimes has to be helped to start. Once in a while, the water breaks and labor starts…or not. So, the first lesson of having a child come to live with you is that you need to be flexible in your expectations.
In the next two posts, we’ll cover Labor and then the Birth Mode. Each of these processes is unique. They involve different energy systems. They require different mind-sets from the mother and her support team. The outcomes are different. Going through the center of these processes helps you deal with them, helps you recover from their strenuous nature and helps you move on to being a parent.
Remember: Breathe in deeply. Gently blow the air out. Repeat. Repeat. Let go of any resistance. Slow your heart. Slow your mind. Consider: Your body has the power to create a person. Your body has the power to expel this person when the rent is up.
Sometimes it seems like pregnancy is a time of restrictions. Avoiding risks can be one thing that makes it seem that way. But, bear with us here in an interesting trip through danger and finding you find ways of enhancing your pregnancy!
Risk Factor #1:
Lack of prenatal care.More than anything else, be sure you have care. Having someone monitor your health and that of your baby during pregnancy is vital to a good outcome.
Risk Factor #2:
Not exercising. Sedentary behavior increases the risk for metabolic, cardiovascular and immune disorders.
I know, I know, you don’t have time to exercise. Well, pay now or pay later, as they say. Make time to go to a class (make sure it includes 20 -30 minutes of aerobics) a couple times a week. A class will also provide social support, another factor that enhances your pregnancy. Take a walk at lunch time. Practice relaxation techniques.
Risk Factor #3:
Breathing dangerous fumes. Yes, this includes smoking and second-hand smoke. But, it also means avoiding environments where there is a lot smog (near highways), living with mold or dust, and fancy cleansers that may have dangerous chemicals in them. Stick with vinegar, ammonia or bleach as cleansers.
Smog can endanger your fetus!
We are learning that combustion exhaust from cars and trucks can negatively affect birth weight and prematurity. If you live or work near a highway or in an area where smog is prevalent, what are your options? Can you transfer or move? Can you wear a mask? Talk to your care provider and figure out the best protection for you and your fetus.
Risk Factor #4:
Poor Nutrition.Yup, just go back one entry and find out how food affects pregnancy. If you don’t eat enough protein and drink enough water, you don’t make sufficient blood volume to nourish your placenta and thus your fetus.
Eat whole foods and learn to read labels when you buy processed foods. What is a “processed” food? Anything with more than one ingredient!
Some processing (ex: homemade soup) takes little nutrition away, but some processing (ex: potato chips) takes everything good away and replaces it with unsafe substances. Look for low sodium, low sugar, high vitamin and mineral content items with no saturated or trans fats.
Read the ingredients; if you don’t know what the words mean, maybe you want to pass it up.
Risk Factor #5:
Alcohol and Drugs. Common items can be as dangerous as street drugs, which
There is plenty of time in life for a glass of wine...later.
No. No. No. Only meds from your prenatal care provider are okay.
Caffeine? Only one cup & only if you must.
can severely compromise you baby’s future. If you have a drug or alcohol habit, get help.
Risk Factor #6:
Genetics. You can have genetic predispositions for many pregnancy issues. However, that does not necessarily mean you will develop a given disorder. For example, nutrition and exercise greatly reduce the risk and severity of metabolic issues. Some genetic issues are unavoidable however, and your care provider will alert you to these, if they are relevant.
Risk Factor #7:
Social issues – isolation, lack of support, abuse, poverty. All of these factors can have negative effects.
If isolation is a simple matter of needing to meet other moms-to-be, join an exercise program. That way, you get both support and exercise; just be sure it includes aerobics, along with centering, relaxation and appropriate strength.
If your situation is more dire, seek the help of a care provider or social worker at your local hospital or clinic. Safety and support are critical for you at this time. Get the help you need. There are people who care. And, if you know of someone who needs help, help them.
If you have other risk factors to offer, please post them in the comments. Thanks!
MORE?!! You didn’t think that was it? Only a few comments on evidence as to WHY moving around, burning calories, being strong and learning to relax while pregnant is beneficial? No, of course not. You know there is more to it, like WHAT movement is safe and effective during pregnancy?
So, what is safe? Well, first, unless you have a very few conditions that your health care provider considers unsafe, every woman – fit, currently sedentary, young or a little older – can exercise safely in pregnancy. How much of what kind depends on your fitness level and exercise history. Get medical screening first.
If you are fit, you can do vigorous exercise
If you are fit, you just need to learn how to modify some movements to accommodate your biomechanics. As your body changes, stress on the joints and tissues means a little less jumping or ballistic motion will be more comfortable and safer. If you are fit, you can continue with vigorous exercise and it will be of benefit to you and your baby.
If you are not so fit or are sedentary, find a certified pre/postnatal instructor and join a group where you will have fun, get some guidance and be monitored for safety. How do you find such a person? Try our Find A Class or Trainer page.
What is effective? Don’t spend your time on things that may be nice to do but don’t help you focus and prepare for birth, relieve discomforts or have the stamina for birth and parenting. There is substantial scientific evidence and information from large surveys that these things are helpful.
Cardiovascular or aerobic activity is the most important activity you can do. Already fit? Keep working out; join a class if you want support or new friends. If you are sedentary or somewhat active, you can improve your fitness by doing at least 20 – 30 minutes of aerobic activity 3 times a week. Work at a moderate pace – somewhat hard to hard – so that you can talk, but not sing an aria! If you are more than 26 weeks and have not been doing cardio, you can walk at a comfortable pace. Aerobics is key because it gives you endurance to tolerate labor and promotes recovery.
Strength and flexibility exercises that do not hurt and are done correctly are also safe. There are some special pregnancy exercises that actually help you prepare for birth. Essential exercises that aid your comfort, alignment and birth preparation include:
• Kegels (squeezing and relaxing pelvic floor muscles) – squeezing strengthens them and thus supports the contents of the abdomen, and learning to release these muscles is necessary for pushing and birth.
• Abdominal hiss/compress and C-Curve® – contracting the transverse abdominal muscles reduces low back discomfort and strengthens the muscle used to push and later to recover abdominal integrity after birth.
• Squatting – getting into this position strengthens the entire leg in a deeply flexed position; start seated and use arms for support, stability and safety. Leg strength improves mobility and comfort in pregnancy and postpartum; plus, deep flexion is a component of pushing in almost all positions.
• Strengthening for biomechanical safety – strengthening some parts of the body helps prevent injury to bone surfaces, nerves and blood vessels within joints re-aligned in pregnancy. This can be done using resistance repetitions (weights, bands, calisthentics or pilates) or isometrics (yoga or ballet). A responsible class will focus on upper back (rowing), push-ups, abdominals, gluteals, hamstrings, and muscles of the lower leg.
• Stretching of areas that tend to get tight – relieving some discomforts through flexibility helps you maintain a full range of motion. Static stretches, used in combination with strength exercises or following aerobics, is most effective. Stretching prior to exercise tends to produce more injuries than not stretching. Areas needing stretching include the chest, low back, hamstrings and hip flexors (psoas).
Mind/Body skills are very important. There are two activities that exercisers constantly tell us are a big help in pregnancy, birth and parenting.
• Centering employs a balanced or neutral posture, deep breathing and mindfulness to help you work in a relaxed way. Athletes and dancers call this “the zone.” Starting your workout in association with your body establishes economy of motion, something very useful in birth and parenting, and reduces risk of injury.
• Relaxation is another key activity; it relieves stress, promotes labor in the early stages and helps you enter the zone!
Please refer to February 5 entry for entire graphic. Today: Environmental Preconditions to Pregnancy.
Our environment is with us all the time. Even if we think we are preventing or controlling environmental factors that impinge on our bodies and minds, they are lurking here, there, everywhere, and they are myriad. Our environmental influences are everything from the air we breathe to the persons who raise or teach us, from the food available to our housing, from our job stresses to cultural forces or even the weather in our part of the world. These things help shape who we are physically and mentally, over the long term and from moment to moment.
Are you prepared to become a parent? One way to tell is to look at your environment…is it healthy? Are you living in a situation that you can count on? What about clean air, safe paint or safe food? What about water? What about people around you? Are they supportive? Does your environment help you stay healthy?
What about your body? Factors in the environment that affect fertility (or lack of it) may determine if you can even become pregnant, or when you can become pregnant. Think about this: Women who work together often cycle together. What if you work alone, say at home…does this affect your ovulation? One factor identified in the lowering age of menstruation in girls is the increasing number of hormones in various meats. Another factor is the presence of non-biologically related older males in the household. If these things are known, imagine what is not known about situations, chemicals or people in our environment that affect our reproduction!
There is not an absolute separation of genetics, environment and behavior. If we are genetically predisposed to certain disorders, for example, we may or may not develop them, depending on environment. Some persons are inclined toward autoimmune disorders, but they may do well or poorly depending on the air pollution where they live. Some individuals may develop immune disorders. And, this situation may adversely impact inflammatory responses during implantation.
People who strive to take care of themselves even if they live in horrible conditions can use their behavior to improve their chances for success in everything from a healthy pregnancy to a meaningful existence. Even if genetics and the environment are against the process, behavior can sometimes overcome the odds. Granted, it’s not likely you can produce 6’5″ offspring (see last post on genetics!) if the egg person is 5’2″ and the sperm person is 5’7″, but much is possible beyond that.
So, what do you do about your environment if you are thinking about becoming pregnant? Take stock. Ask yourself what, if anything, might have to change. Ask what you can or can’t accept for your offspring, if you know there are environmental factors that aren’t perfect. Fetuses are amazing creatures; the placentas that supply and defend them are ruthless and will protect a fetus at all costs. But, you can give your body and potential baby a good chance to do well by providing a six month span of a healthy environment leading up to conception. And, healthy for mind as well as body.
When your baby comes into the world, a door opens in your heart to a room you didn’t even know was there. In that room is a certain kind of love and caring that cannot be described. It is love for this being who is and isn’t you. As a mother, you have been her/his environment for nine months or however long you have shared. The womb is a small, protected, organized environment, one that reflects your larger environment. So, take stock now, ahead of time.