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Why exercise can make you feel like yourself again - no mum guilt allowed

Exercise can give you a sense of fulfilment away from motherhood, says postnatal personal trainer Nicole Chapman

Cropped shot of a young group of mothers lying down and posing with her babies during a baby yoga class
Melanie Macleod
Wellness Editor
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As a new mum – or a parent of any age - it's hard to find time to exercise. You're likely spinning lots of plates on little sleep, and there's a tiny person who needs you.

It's a plight HELLO!'s homes editor Rachel Avery knows all too well. Her little one is seven weeks old and she shared that during her 20-minute workout this morning, she needed to pause twice to tend to her baby.

It's not just newborns that are a barrier when it comes to mums working out, though. "As a parent you are responsible for the logistics of more people, and with this comes scheduling constraints," says personal trainer Nicole Chapman. "You may have limited childcare available and lack of support or understanding of the mental and physical load of motherhood."

Blonde lady smiling on a gym mat
Nicole Chapman specialises in helping mums get back into fitness

Exercise and mum guilt

Nicole explains that ‘mum guilt’ can enter the equation too. "It's a very natural feeling. You may feel guilty for going to work, so when you aren't working you think all the time should be spent with your children, or you may feel judged if you take time away from the kids."

Our changing bodies

Nicole explains that not being used to your new body can act as a barrier to postnatal exercise. "As a new mum, what is often not considered is that it is normal to feel a disconnection to your body postpartum.

"Combine this with feeling sleep-deprived and overwhelmed and you might feel less attractive and even a sense of loss of identity. Stretch marks, weakness in your pelvic floor, leaking nipples and a body that still looks pregnant once you have given birth. You have a right to not feel sexy!" Nicole laments.

Mother doing yoga at home surrounded by children© Getty
There are barriers for new mums when it comes to working out

"Take each day at a time, understand that these feelings are ok and might even stem from unrealistically high beauty standards we've had to navigate through our whole lives, and that impact on our mindset.

"Knowing that this is normal can in itself power you up to change that mindset to have a new respect for your body and admiration for all it has done for you and your baby."

DISCOVER: I’m a personal trainer and here’s how to reset your approach to exercise 

If you are looking to get back into exercise, Nicole has some stellar advice.

 1. Focus on new goals

"Focus on non-aesthetic goals when it comes to working out," Nicole suggests. "Find something you enjoy and celebrate the wins along the way as you get fitter and stronger."

Baby boy (6-11 months) assisting mother performing yoga in livingroom© Getty
Finding time to work out is tricky!

Of her own goals, Nicole says: "I no longer chase a figure on a scale – I chase personal bests. I set myself goals and challenge myself and everything else falls into place. It can be very easy to forget yourself through motherhood, so please remember that you are important too.

2. Keep it consistent

Consistency is key and if you can establish an achievable weekly routine, with balanced healthy eating, you will hit your weight loss and fitness goals, advises Nicole. "Patience will be your best friend."

Routine is important if you are struggling to find time to exercise, says Nicole. "Put it in your diary as a meeting. Establish healthy habits and goals that fit into your lifestyle - do not change your life to fit them if it doesn’t make you truly happy."

 READ: Brain fog? Try this super simple way to clear it 

If a lack of time is keeping you from working out, remember that even just 10 minutes of movement a day can be a total game changer for energy, mood and fitness.

Nicole explains that studies show that the intensity of the workout doesn’t dictate the benefits it has on your mood, so with this in mind, you can choose the physical activity based on your energy levels, time and present mood to support you best mentally as opposed to assuming HIIT being the answer, when indeed a walk in fresh air may be just what the doctor ordered.

Jogging and running are fitness recreations© Alamy
Finding time to work out can be a challenge

"By adapting to what best serves you, you are more likely to build regular activity into your week in a way that is maintainable," she adds.

3. Remember exercise is self-care

Self-care doesn't have to mean soaking in the bath, it can equate to prioritising yourself, in whichever way you need that day.

"Recognise this and put yourself back on the priority list. You cannot pour from an empty cup!" implores Nicole.

 DISCOVER: I went for a walk every day - here's what it did to my stress levels 

"Finding the time for yourself, feeling the independence and knowing you're exercising for you, your body and your mind will see your family reap the benefits also. You'll be a mum with renewed energy and a boost of confidence that exercise brings."

Nicole adds that you'll likely feel like a better parent if you make time for yourself to work out, explaining: "Through fitness you can build a body you fall in love with, grow your confidence and increase your energy so you’re fit enough to meet the demands of motherhood, be it playing with the kids, jumping on a trampoline or completing a physical challenge you thought was unattainable.

"Exercise can give a sense of fulfilment away from motherhood or career achievements. Transforming your physical and mental health so you can bring the best of you into each and every day – which is rather empowering."

4. Ask for help

"Ask for help when you need it and communicate with your partner or support network," advises Nicole. "We often feel the need to juggle it all without asking for help. But by having support and getting that time for yourself, your family will benefit from a happier, heathier mum."

Nicole Chapman is the creator of the 6-week online workout programme, Power of Mum, designed to empower women to be fitter and stronger in body and mind, through strength training and metabolic conditioning. Her next programme starts 19 February 2024.

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