How one athlete is changing the conversation around mental health.
I’ve heard the stamina you need for giving birth is not dissimilar to that required for a marathon. Of course, there are other similarities too. I’m told there is a great deal of puffing and panting, perspiring, the possibility of an over-active bladder, swollen ankles and all of this whilst having no idea when you’ll cross the finish line. But there’s 9 long months before any of that happens and plenty of time to train for it all.
I’m now 7 months pregnant and I’m learning that much of pregnancy is about being sensitive to the rhythm of life, learning to listen to the body, trusting my intuition and understanding what it means to feel healthy and well – not only for myself but also for the little one inside. There are lots of opinions on pregnancy and exercise and, as an exercise physiologist, I have a fair few of my own. But to me it is less about what it says in a book and more about how you feel. Obviously you should always check with your obstetrician first, but why let a little (or big) bump come between you and your exercise?
Before I found out I was ‘mum-to-be’, I was exercising most days, getting my daily Headspace and eating really wel. And I felt great! So why would I change anything? As my bump has got bigger, I’ve had people I’ve never even met before tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing – sometimes even strangers on the street! Little do they know that exercise is a way of life for me. And there is strong evidence that whilst we shouldn’t increase the intensity or frequency of exercise whilst pregnant, continuing with a well-established routine can provide many benefits.
At 30 weeks I still change into my yoga pants on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, get sweaty in the spin room a couple of times a week and run once or twice too. Admittedly, living in sunny California makes it all feel a little bit easier, but then the rain in London never stopped me either. What’s changed though is my motivation. I used to race competitively, so my training was always about faster, further, longer. I wanted to win, so I would push myself as hard as possible, trying to achieve the best possible result. It was a lot of fun, but a different kind of fun.
Back then, I finished a run and looked at my watch to make sure I ran fast enough. Nowadays, I ‘check in’. A bit like when I meditate, I am more in tune with how my body feels and how the baby reacts afterwards. I gain more joy from the surprise and congratulations I receive from those who see me run along with a baby bump than I do from winning. It’s a shared sense of achievement for both me and the little one. So these days, exercise is more about feeling well, a sense of play. It is knowing that very soon another little human life is going to be dependent on me and so it’s more important than ever that I’m healthy and well.
Last week, Headspace were presenting at an event called ‘Google Create’ in Berkshire. I took my opportunity to go along and meet double Olympic Champion, Mo Farah. After a compulsory warm up and pregnancy ‘Mobot’, I ran alongside Mo for a 5 kilometer loop of beautiful Cliveden House. Most people there thought I was mad, but I was so inspired by Mo that all of my pregnancy worries just melted away. All I remember feeling was my feet hitting the ground, the morning sun beating down and the enthusiasm of my beating heart.
Each of us will deal with pregnancy differently and our energy for exercise may vary, but whatever you do, try to stay fit and healthy during your pregnancy. Don’t let it become just one more excuse not to exercise. Yes, people will tell you that you shouldn’t be exercising, but then people always have lots of opinions, about everything. So listen to your body and to your obstetrician instead. Take each day as it comes, trust your intuition and be confident in that inner voice. Sometimes that voice will encourage you to move, at other times to stay still. As for me, having gone for a run earlier today, right now that voice is telling me to indulge in some homemade sticky toffee pudding whilst visiting my mum!