sports-shoes-115149_1280Years ago I certainly did not do any regular exercise. Admittedly I was a junior doctor working stupidly long hours at the time, but the truth is I didn’t like exercise, or perhaps I didn’t understand the immediate benefits it could have on my life. Over time I resolved to make it a part of my life, and now exercise at least four times a week.
Our motivation to incorporate healthy habits into our daily routine often depends on the short-term benefits rather than long-term, so I know that the promise of longer life, lower risk of cancer, and lower risk of dementia and osteoporosis may not work for many (especially younger) people. So I’ve included a number of reasons why I exercise to feel good now. If you’re struggling to make this a regular thing, try picking one or two reasons from the list below to motivate you to get your 1.5 hours in a week.

 

Sanity.

I exercise for my sanity. Any less than 3 times a week and I feel unmotivated, depressed and increasingly dark. After a run or a walk, it’s like my brain receives a boost of happy neurochemicals (well, this is actually what happens). Exercise is my antidepressant. (Now, if you’re actually depressed, this may not be enough to lift you out of major depression, but it certainly will help, along with other things).

 

Vanity.

This is not actually a high priority on my list but I put it together with Sanity because it rhymes. Exercise keeps you looking good – your muscles are toned, you look great (because you’re sane!), it keeps excess kilos at bay.

 

Sleep.

I sleep much better when I get regular exercise – my head hits the pillow and I’m away. This has marvellous benefits beyond just feeling refreshed – it balances out your hormones, particularly reducing stress hormones, and keeping weight off. Sleep more, weigh less? Yes please!

Exercise helps me sleep like a baby... Hah! That's a lie. We all know babies don't sleep?!
Exercise helps me sleep like a baby… Hah! That’s a lie. We all know babies don’t sleep?!

Energy.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but exercise increases energy levels rather than depletes them. Not exercising for a few days makes me feel incredibly sluggish, as though my system has virtually ground to a halt. People ask how I can have the energy to exercise and work and parent but I would answer, I have the energy because I exercise.

 

Me-time.

The holy grail of parenting. Going for a run is one of the best forms of me-time I could think of. I choose a podcast and savour the 30 minutes of not having to deal with tricky revisions on my latest chapter or misbehaving toddlers. I come home feeling pretty good too. I love having massages but I rarely get them because a regular run is a better form of me-time.

 

Outdoors time.

If you’re like me, you probably spend a great deal of time indoors (my department, in particular, has decided to house PhD students in an airless box that has the atmosphere of a dungeon). Getting outdoors is literally a breath of fresh air! I like to run around nature, like a park, and the green of the trees rejuvenates my weary eyes and head.

Use exercise to get back into nature. Talk about multitasking!!
Use exercise to get back into nature. Talk about multitasking!!

Eating.

You can eat a little bit more (but not too much! A 30 minute run will only burn about 200 calories – that’s just a small yoghurt), unless you’re trying to lose weight.

 

Epiphanies.

You might need to be a regular exerciser for a while before this happens to you (yes I admit it’s painful when you get started and you’re very unfit but your fitness catches up quickly, so don’t give up!) I have the most amazing epiphanies when I run. Solutions to major life dilemmas, a new idea for the Discussion chapter in my thesis, an idea for a new project or blog. It’s like my brain starts sorting out the mess in my head and arranges it in startlingly vivid, orderly and logical patterns. I go home with a fresh brain full of brilliant ideas and insights.

 

Example.

I know that I’m modelling healthy behaviour for my children, and that in the future they will know that mummy used to run three times a week so perhaps I should get off the couch and do something too. That parental example will be ingrained in their brains and I will have given them an advantage, not a disadvantage.

What about you? What are the reasons why you exercise? Share to motivate others on their fitness journey! Happy moving to you all :)
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I don’t know if I’m brave enough to love you, only to have to let you go.

I don’t know if I’m brave enough to wake up without seeing your little heads next to mine on my pillow.

I don’t know if I’m brave enough to watch you learn to ride a bike, to see you put on a school uniform, tie your laces, and head out into the big wide world on your own.

I don’t know if I’m brave enough to watch you navigate the schoolyard, make friends and lose friends.

I don’t know if I’m brave enough to walk you to school without you wanting to hold my hand.

I don’t know if I’m brave enough to see you fall in love, have your heart broken, and try so hard to find the right one.

I don’t know if I’m brave enough to watch you try to find out what it is exactly that you want to do, and then try your hardest to succeed in it.

I don’t know if I’m brave enough to see you sail the rough seas of adulthood, away from my protective wings.

I don’t know if I’m brave enough to be your mother, to hold your hearts in my heart, and feel them beat even when you’re not with me.

Each moment with you is like a pearl, strung on a thread linked to my heart, with the pearls falling away one by one; an endless necklace of memories that I can barely touch before they slip out of my grasp.

Each memory is impregnated with tears, joy, laughter, exhaustion, frustration and tedium.

I don’t know if I am brave enough to love you the way I should. But I get the feeling that it doesn’t matter, because my courage comes from your eyes, your smile, your touch, and the things you say that make my heart soar and break it at the same time. Like “You’re the best mummy in the world”. I feel like this is true, and not true, all at once. Whatever courage I have, it mostly comes from you. 

You are the ones who are brave. My deep well of courage comes only from your enthusiasm, your innocence and yes, your boldness. I put my hand in your tiny ones, take a deep breath, and go forth each day with hope, love and no regrets.

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I started writing this and could keep going forever. Note the caveat of “office job” that is, as opposed to working in an Emergency Department, customer retail, or any environment that involves unpredictability and the likelihood of having to deal with cranky, irrational people.

  1. You face incredible resistance towards getting the simplest things done at home. For example, the very basic activities of daily living, such as dressing and feeding your small children. Your agenda: to nourish and clothe your child. Their agenda: to experiment with how far they can fling the lovingly-prepared and nutritionally-balanced meal you prepared, and how long they can spend running away from you before you yell at them to “Come here and get dressed!!” And whether said high-fibre low-fat mostly-plant-based meal can be replaced by Cheerios, M&Ms or a stick of processed cheese.
  2. Nobody at work minds if you want to go to the toilet on your own. In fact, it’s encouraged.
  3. Nobody at work minds if you sometimes move away from them or extricate them from your lap so you can make a cup of tea, do the dishes, or answer the doorbell. They generally don’t start screeching every time you leave the room – they know you are coming back. And you can do your work without your colleagues clinging to your legs and crying.
  4. If people at work have tantrums, the kind where they lie on the floor, kick their legs and belt out a thousand decibels, they are generally led away quietly after the tantrum has abated and either fired or encouraged to take some sick leave until their personal problems are sorted.
  5. People at work generally don’t stand next to you and ask you “Why” questions all day long. If they want to ask questions, they usually send you an email or call a meeting. They don’t ask you why you are wearing blue today, or why you are sitting down, or why you are standing up, or why you chose to eat a salad, or why don’t dogs fly.
  6. People at work have to undergo OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) training. They understand that it’s not safe to climb the shelves or jump off the kitchen table. It’s all in the manual. And they will be reported to the OHS committee and the “incident” will be documented, and nobody wants that kind of thing happening. It’s just too much paperwork and bother.
  7. If you go to the toilet, your colleagues don’t yell out “WHERE ARE YOU!!!!” from the office.
  8. If you have a disagreement with someone at work, they usually don’t start yelling “Well then I am NOT YOUR FRIEND any more!!” and walk away in a huff. Usually.
  9. You get paid to go to work.
  10. You get holidays from your office job.
  11. People at work value silence. At the most you will have to put up with mindless gossip or the Top 40 radio station. People at work don’t bang the stapler on their desk repeatedly because it sounds fun, or shriek loudly, or have noisy fights over whose turn it is to use the photocopier. If they do, perhaps you should get a new job.
Please add to the list! :)
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We don’t have any babysitters unless Mum comes to stay with us. So if we want to have a meal outside, Star needs to come with! We’ve developed a kind of radar for the places that are kid-friendly, but, you know, the ones that aren’t overrun by prams. Chinese restaurants aren’t bad because the noise drowns out the sound of your toddler banging on the table with the chopsticks. I’ve started a list of my favourite places, check it out at Thatwelike.com

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Toddlerhood is a journey of discovering amazing new skills every day. And of late, Star has taken to two new skills that delight me immensely. One – Going to sleep on her own, night AND day. Two – Sleeping for longer than half an hour during the day! Now it’s imperative that we make it home for her afternoon naps. Not so much for her (though she does sleep a lot better in her own bed), but for me. I’ve gotten into the delicious habit of savouring my own time during that afternoon nap. I put the kettle on and make a pot of sencha tea before I put her to bed. I give her a kiss and put her in her cot with a cup of milk. Shut the door and wait for tea to brew! I love the ritual of pouring teacup after teacup and relishing the quiet in the house. It’s become my Happy Hour (a term I coined after coming across a book entitled “Naptime is the new happy hour”).

While in Byron Bay I assembled a special holiday treat. Local chai tea, local macadamia nuts covered in dark chocolate, and my eBook on the iPad. It was a rainy afternoon and Star was chatting to herself in her cot. She never actually got to the land of snooze that day but she stayed in the cot for two hours.

I now know how other mothers stayed sane throughout babyhood, as they would have had Happy Hour at least once, or twice, a day. I questioned how I stayed sane myself, with the 30 minute dash to the toilet and hurried cup of tea I used to get before.

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We just got home from an NHMRC-funded trip to Byron Bay. Now I think that MIGHT actually be a first!

One of our Chief Investigators is the lovely Prof Stephen Myers from Southern Cross University in Lismore. He roped in, err, recruited two wonderful acupuncturists, one on the Gold Coast and one in Ballina/Byron Bay to provide treatments for our Acupause study, and I was flown up to train them personally.

I’ve given five training sessions already but there was an added complexity this time given the logistics of interstate clinical research. And perhaps the more times you do something the less clear you become, and having Stephen there at the training session really helped me hone in on those multiple tiny details that would make a huge difference in the long run.

As for Byron Bay, what can I say? Situated at the Eastern-most tip of the Australian headland, in the enviable climate of Northern NSW, with some of the loveliest beaches in the world, it’s easy to see why it’s one of the most popular holiday destinations in Australia. We surfed, Star played for hours in the ocean, and we saw two pods of dolphins. Sitting on the beach at the Pass one evening, watching my little girl run in the shallow waters, I felt as though surely this must be what heaven would be like.

And a tax-deductible heaven too.

Evening at the Pass. Heavenly.

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And now for a subject dear to my heart… I came across a fascinating article entitled “Crawling in and out of sleep”. The authors conducted a study on two sets of 8 month olds – one set were crawling, the other weren’t yet. They measured sleep patterns using computerised movement detectors, and the mothers filled out sleep questionnaires. They found that the crawlers woke more at night than the non-crawlers, confirming similar findings from previous studies.

Why does this happen? The authors proposed that the newly acquired skills of being able to propel oneself forward may extend brief arousals into long awakening episodes. Does this sound familiar? It does in our household! My seven month old has just perfected the art of hand-knee crawling after weeks of “creeping”, or moving forward on her belly, and she has gone from peacefully sleeping through the night to unexplained waking last night, with – yes – “long awakening episodes”!

The importance of sleep in consolidating learning is well known, and the authors also suggest that perhaps certain brain pathways are re-activated during sleep, causing crawling-like movements. Another theory they threw in there was that maybe babies who crawled earlier had different constitutional predispositions (more active and poorer sleep) – although previous studies had suggested that from time to time, infant sleep can become more challenged temporarily.

Another article discussed the changes that occur with the onset of crawling – which include changes in social and emotional development and distance perception. While all developmental milestones, particularly motor milestones, could cause a temporary sleep disruption, crawling seems to be unique in that it is the first time a baby is able to move independently. Among one of the new things they experience is a sense of “glee” on being able to explore and perhaps in getting a reaction out of Mummy when going where he or she shouldn’t!

Here comes Star now, crawling down the corridor towards me, deep in concentration and with the proudest look on her face. I haven’t the heart to feel cross about our sleepless night last night.

References:
Scher, A. (2005), Crawling in and out of sleep. Infant and Child Development, 14: 491–500. doi: 10.1002/icd.427
Campos, J. J., Anderson, D. I., Barbu-Roth, M. A., Hubbard, E. M., Hertenstein, M. J. and Witherington, D. (2000), Travel Broadens the Mind. Infancy, 1: 149–219.

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Star slept in her own room last night. She had been in her bassinet next to our bed since she was about 6 weeks old. Prior to that she often slept (or didn’t sleep) out in the loungeroom with one of us doing “night shift”.

During our prebedtime routine she was a little unsettled and kept looking around an awful lot. When she finally got tired she had a big cry but settled down once we read her favourite bedtime story. She was exhausted and went down without a struggle.

Our room seemed so empty and quiet. I must confess I didn’t sleep very well to start off with and it didn’t improve as she proceeded to wake every 1.5-2 hrs, not really wanting a feed but needing some attention. Once she cried out loudly in her sleep but was sound asleep when I checked on her.

It must be a big transition for a little baby to sleep in a brand new room all by herself, though I am not sure if she actually knows I am not there at night. Hopefully tonight is a better night. She could have been practising in her sleep as well, because today she suddenly mastered reaching out and grabbing toys while on her tummy.

I think it might take us BOTH a little time to adjust. I was amazed at how much I missed her presence in the room, even though it had started to interfere with my sleep as she can be quite a restless sleeper. But I missed hearing her breathe next to me and even the tossing and turning and the little cries. Just as well we got to spend lots of time together last night.

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Star was a poor sleeper from birth. Or should I say she was a great waker. We never had that sleepy newborn phase where they sleep 20 hours a day. As a newborn she would frequently stay awake most of the day. When she hit two months she started sleeping well at night but would only catnap during the day. And falling asleep was a real struggle – first I rocked her in my arms, then in the bassinet. She seemed to need a lot of movement to settle into sleep and she usually screamed very loudly for more than ten minutes as she went to sleep. Being a very curious, alert little baby, she just hated to shut her eyes.

Two weeks ago she suddenly flipped. At first I thought she had flipped out. She screamed when I rocked her in the bassinet. I had to feed her to sleep. She skipped a few morning naps and was horribly cranky by the afternoon. But then she progressed quite quickly. First, rocking her side to side in the bassinet with my arms. Next, just patting her to sleep! Today, I patted her a little and left the room and she fell asleep by herself. What a miracle! I never thought I would see the day, but I did visualise it every day as I rocked her back and forth, back and forth in the bassinet… three times a day. I’d been planning to sleep train her the “no cry” way, Elizabeth Pantley style, but Star decided that she would like the accelerated pathway, thank you very much!

It was nothing that I did. She just learned to do it by herself, just as she’ll learn to crawl and walk and talk. Babies are amazing creatures.

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I kept as active as I could during pregnancy, trying for 2.5 hrs a week of aerobic exercise – up til the last few heavy weeks anyway! I ran, swam, and walked a lot. Here’s how exercise helped, or didn’t help, during my pregnancy, the labour and birth and the postpartum period.

Pregnancy

Gentle swimming helped boost my energy levels during the first trimester, but vigorous exercise tended to make me exhausted and hungry. I sometimes woke up from a nap to go for a walk, only to return to bed afterwards!

During the second trimester, I felt fabulous while exercising and managed to run until 6 months. It also gave me a sense of strength and achievement to feel so fit and active.

In the third trimester, I just tried to maintain a modicum of fitness – and waddling around the block in the last few weeks during maternity leave gave me something to do at least.

I gained exactly the weight that I should have, no more and no less. I felt good about myself and the way I looked. It didn’t help morning sickness and I still got pelvic and back pain and some insomnia, but overall I had a fairly uneventful pregnancy. I didn’t have any medical complications such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes.

Labour and birth

I’d read about how babies born to very active mothers tended to be born earlier (around 1 week before the due date) although the evidence for this is a bit weak. My baby came exactly on her due date! I also kept up the walking in the last few weeks of the third trimester to try and “bring on the labour” but I’m not sure if this helped. I think babies just come when they’re ready!

I was hoping for an uncomplicated labour and birth (though I think from memory the evidence for a lower rate of assisted birth or Caesarian sections in active women is not convincing). As it turned out, labour did start spontaneously but became obstructed because my baby was in the posterior position (which also made for a very painful labour!)

There have been reports that keeping active during pregnancy reduces the need for painkillers during labour. Not for me! I asked for an epidural early on as the contractions were so intense.

The postpartum period

I returned to my prepregnancy weight very quickly, although I don’t know if this was all to do with being active during pregnancy. I found the early weeks quite stressful and I think the kilos fell off because of this. Later on, as it became clear that my baby was a particularly poor sleeper, I found myself walking for hours and hours every day just to get her to sleep – and I dropped below my prepregnancy weight when she was 2 ½ months old. Not how I would recommend other mothers to lose weight, but the walking was a necessity for me, and I guess at least it gave me back my fitness and my prepregnancy body!

I was assessed by a physiotherapist a few days after the birth and didn’t suffer from any DRAM (Diastasis Rectus Abdominus muscle) which is the separation of the muscles of the abdomen. I was also able to return to walking within a couple of weeks, and by about 3 or 4 weeks I was back to walking 40 minutes daily. 10 weeks later I went for my first run.

It’s difficult to tell if being fit during pregnancy helped energy levels in the postpartum period as this depends so much on how sleep deprived you are!

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