Movement is great for physical and mental wellbeing

A great stress reliever, good for your body and mind, exercise in some form is of huge benefit to us all.

This week I spoke with Paris-based pre-and post-natal fitness professional Alison Ham of Yogamamanbebe.com about keeping fit and flexible during Covid-19 confinement. A mum of three, Alison has been working in the field of pre- and postnatal fitness for ten years. It all started when she discovered after her daughter was born that she enjoyed power walks with other mums more than coffee mornings, and one thing lead to another. She re-trained as a personal fitness coach, Yoga instructor and PE teacher, and now that her babies are children and she has a little more perspective on the childbearing years, she enjoys being able to pass on her wisdom to expecting and new mothers to help them achieve their personal wellbeing goals. Alison specialises in pre- and post-natal fitness, offering one-on-one and small group classes ranging from Yoga to 'buggy fit'.

View the video of our interview here, or scroll down to read our Q&A:

While we are all confined mostly to home, in what ways can exercise help our mental state? Are there any types of exercise that are best to help us stay positive?

This is a very strange time. Some people are still able to do regular leisure exercise everyday but still feel sedentary because they aren’t getting their usual non-exercise physical activity (like walking to get places or doing active jobs). Some people are now totally sedentary but still feel exhausted like they run a marathon each day because they are under a lot of pressure. Other people who had sedentary jobs are on their feet taking care of their kids every day! But overall, everyone seems to be really tense. I really recommend everyone get 30min walking every day, as long as the sanitary measures where you live allow it. There’s something about the rhythmic, repetitive movement of walking (or jogging) that restores focus. Motion is lotion, rest is rust: when you start moving, synovial fluid is produced in the joints to lubricate and nourish them. If you don’t move, no synovial fluid flows through the joints. So after you have had a good walk to get warmed up and restore circulation, take some time to stretch. When we are sedentary the hamstrings and inner thighs really tend to shorten. And when we are under stress we develop tension everywhere. I’m a big fan of yoga but do what feels good to you. Exercise improves sleep quality, and this is a huge plus for expecting and new mums.

Walking if you are allowed outside is great exercise

Is there any basic equipment you need to exercise at home? Any substitutes if you can’t get equipment?

A non-skid floor mat if you can get one is really helpful. If you don’t have one though, you can place a cushion or a folded towel under your knees for exercises that involve being on your knees. But a lot of stores like Decathlon are still delivering if you need to order something online. I’m a big fan of resistance bands, there’s so much you can do with them and they don’t take up much space. I really wish that home exercise bikes, rowers and treadmills got people active. They’re great machines. It’s a nice idea that you can get in shape in your basement or living room. But the research just doesn’t show this happens. There have been lots of studies where researchers compare various interventions to see which ones work to get people active. They look at things like buying a treadmill, joining a gym, hiring a trainer...and you know which intervention is best at making sedentary people into active people? Adopting a dog. Go figure.

If you can't get a non-slip mat, a rug or towel can work.

What if you don’t like exercising on your own, are there any solutions for virtual group classes?

There are so many choices right now, I think the difficulty is choosing one! If you have enjoyed an exercise class in the past, get in touch with your old instructor. Chances are he/she has found a way to take his/her classes online during the confinement, either using Zoom, Youtube or live stream on Facebook.

Its always a good time to start

If you have never really done much exercise, is this a good time to start?

It’s always a good time to start being active! Today is the first day of the rest of your life! It’s cliché, but even light exercise is really beneficial during pregnancy. The first step is always the hardest - going from your couch to the pavement - but once you get there you’ve overcome 90% of the hurdles to becoming fit.

What about post-natal. If you have just had a baby, when is a good time to start exercise again, and what should a new mum start with?

It all depends how you define exercise, but the right time to start exercising is when a mother feels ready. Listen to your body. You do need to honour the time your body needs to heal, so at a minimum you shouldn’t be working out before the bleeding stops post partum. You usually have a check up at 6 weeks after the birth and that is usually when you are cleared for more rigorous exercise. Starting off with breathing and alignment are really important, since your posture can become a lot more rounded from holding the baby, feeding and so on – you might not even notice it. Going for a gentle walk, doing some gentle yoga breathing, these are things you can do any time as long as you feel up to it. The important thing is listen to your body. It is also essential to get a good bra!

Are there any exercises you can do with your baby?

Buggy fit! Just make sure you are not hunching over on the stroller. Push with your hips, not with your arms. Adjust the handles if you need to. If you have a birthing ball/yoga ball, there are lots of great exercises you can do (for example for your pelvic floor) while holding your baby – this is especially good if you have a fussy baby that always needs to be held.

A yoga ball is great for the pelvic floor while soothing a fussy baby

Any tips for staying motivaged and keeping going with exercise, especially during lockdown?

Find some kind of exercise you enjoy. The best exercise program is the program that fits your lifestyle and that you look forward to. Find friends to exercise with you, or get your partner to exercise with you. The first year with a baby there is constant change. Babies are unpredictable and it’s hard to keep to a schedule. Don’t be discouraged by missed sessions or sessions where you just can’t go as hard as you use to. One workout does not constitute a habit, and one missed workout doesn’t mean you’ve broken your habit or won’t reach your goals, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t be as regular with you used to. If you run a red light you don’t think “oh all hope is lost! I give up on stopping at red lights!” You just make sure you stop at the next one :). Same thing with your fitness habits. If you get off track, just pick up where you left off!

If you are interested in finding out more about Alison's classes that have moved online, you can contact her at alison@yogamamanbebe.com or check out her facebook page @yogamamanbebe

Buggy Fit classes are great exercise with your baby, and may be online now!