Why Walking is the Best Postpartum Exercise

iStock_000016288424SmallWhen did walking get such a bad rap? I have clients tell me all the time that they need to "exercise" but can't due to whatever the issue is that brought them into my office. Then they sneer and say, "I can only manage to go on [deep depressed sigh] walks." We've been sold such a story that we need to only bow down to the holy grail of sweaty, heart-thumping, intense cardiovascular exercise in order to have any health benefits. When in truth, regular, non-sped up, walking is a primary ingredient of what our species needs to thrive. It's not that getting sweaty doesn't have it's place of course, but we can drop the sneer about walking being so sub-par... It's actually what should be prioritized for our best health, especially in a world where we walk less and less. All that said, this post could easily be titled Why Walking is the Best Exercise. Period. But Wendy Powell of MuTu Mamas happens to be an expert in postpartum health, so this is written through that (very needed) lens. MuTu System programs are clear about the walking part. It’s not negotiable. Right from Day 1, you go for a daily walk, and that remains a constant throughout the program and beyond. But whether you are a mama or not, this is a great read. Read it, and then go take a walk! Daily walks are for everyone!

Enter Wendy: 

Whether you are 1-week postpartum or 5 years, walking is an essential part of your recovery and healthy lifestyle.

Short bursts of sweaty, intensive exercise a few times a week are great for fat burning, raising the heart rate, improving endurance and making you feel great.

But a ‘workout’ isn’t a substitute for walking.

If a session of frantic exercise is the only movement you get in a day, it’s not going to get your body or your health where you want it. Walking should always come first – every day – wherever you can manage it. Just 20-30 minutes is enough… (but more is awesome).

Walking is a Health-Saver. Period.

Walking in optimal, whole-body alignment benefits your joints, muscles and connective tissues, encouraging them to do their job: muscles stretching, lengthening and contracting like well-oiled machinery.

Walking is a must for Moms.

For moms, there’s another USP of walking. Childbirth compromises your core and pelvic floor -- and standing, walking and squatting in correct alignment is super effective at restoring function to these muscles.

Your core muscles are responsible for stabilising your pelvis as you walk, so walking in good form conditions your mid-section with every step you take.

As well as helping you to work and tone your core muscles naturally, walking in proper alignment helps to reduce pressure in the abdominal cavity. This has four brilliant side effects for Moms:

1) It Helps Close The Gap in Your Core

Diastasis recti –abdominal separation –is characterised by a weakness of the midline of the rectus abdominis muscle. The muscle has a stretched weakened area of connective tissue at the centre (the line alba), causing instability, possibly back pain, and a pooched ‘mummy tummy’appearance.

Diastasis recti is caused by excessive intra-abdominal pressure exerting an outward force. Your core can begin to firm up only when intra abdominal pressure is reduced. Correcting your alignment and walking will help with this!

2) It Helps You Get a Flatter Tummy

No amount of abdominal exercise will help a tummy lie flat if you have significant diastasis recti. By helping mums to narrow their diastasis and firm up their midline, walking with proper alignment helps to build the foundations for a flatter tummy.

3) It Helps Restore Pelvic Floor ‘Bounce’

Intra abdominal pressure exerts outwards and downwards, also weakening the pelvic floor muscle.

Pelvic floor weakness is a problem for many moms and can result in incontinence, pelvic pain and even pelvic organ prolapse.

Walking and moving naturally reduces the pressure, enabling you to regain pelvic floor strength. Walking, twisting, squatting and lunging are also really important to get the pelvic floor muscle to do its job effectively –lengthening, contracting and relaxing with ease –supporting the internal organs, preventing leakage and enabling more sexual pleasure. Whats not to like?

4) It Helps You Kiss Goodbye to Aches + Pains

Core instability arises from any one part of the core not working properly. So, if you have diastasis recti, core weakness or pelvic floor dysfunction (leakage, pain or prolapse), you have an unstable core. The effect of the instability can ricochet throughout your body, causing backache and other muscular aches and pains.

Walking and moving in a natural way helps you to build a strong, well-functioning core –and so helps you to reduce pain and injury.

How To Walk!

It might sound crazy to think about how you walk, but bodies that spend too much time slumped in seats, cocooned in squishy beds, or tottering in high heels have long forgotten how to walk as we were built to do.

How you walk directly affects the benefits you experience from it – walk right and you will tone your butt, leg and pelvic floor muscles, get it wrong and you will do little for your body except knackering your joints!

Your whole body participates in walking, from head to toe, in perfect mechanical alignment, so it’s important to give some thought to how you hold yourself and how your feet interact with the ground.

7 golden rules of ‘natural’ walking:

  1. Your feet should point straight ahead as you walk
  2. Your torso should be straight, don’t lean forward, look straight ahead
  3. Ditch heeled shoes which disrupt your alignment - choose minimalist or barefoot shoes where possible
  4. Don’t thrust your chest out or tuck your butt under
  5. Keep your legs straight. Rather than bending your knee out in front to gain ground, push away from the ground with the toes and ball of your back foot with straight legs to move your body forward.
  6. Stretch your hamstrings and calves daily. These muscles are very often tight, causing your butt to tuck underneath and preventing correct walking alignment
  7. Check your feet: Correct walking gait moves your foot through four phases: heel strike, foot flat, heel off, toes off.

If that’s all too much to think about at first (I mean, how hard should walking be?), just get out and take a walk. Hold your head up, stride purposefully and swing your arms. Try to relax and enjoy walking as a sanctuary of calm in your hectic world.

Little by little, one change at a time, begin to check the way you’re walking and establish better alignment habits. Your shoes are the best place to start. Walking regularly will have a bigger impact on your postpartum recovery and whole body health than any workout - so make a daily walk your daily activity priority!

                                                                                                                                          

About the Author

Wendy Powell

Mom of 2 Wendy Powell is founder of the internationally recognized and sought after MuTu® System program. She has over 12 years experience, proven record and study in the pre and postpartum fitness industry.

MuTu System includes online coaching, DVD’s, online support and community, fully endorsed by Specialist Women’s Health Physiotherapists and Industry Experts worldwide. It is fresh, personal, progressive and motivational, and it gives Moms the answers, guidance and support they need to restore body confidence inside and out. Wendy has an established international social media following and industry reputation.

MuTu System covers fitness, fat loss, nutrition, hormone balancing and motivational strategies for busy Mums.

Wendy’s specialist area of expertise is pelvic and abdominal reconnection and restoration after childbirth: functional core strength, diastasis recti, pelvic floor and related alignment issues.

Wendy writes for the Huffington Post and has appeared in numerous magazine features, including Red magazine, Health and Fitness and Zest. Health and Fitness magazine UK also commissioned Wendy to write their Get Your Body Back book, published September 2013.