Motherhood is its own unique form of exercise. The early morning wake-ups, the heavy lifting, learning to do almost everything one-handed with a child attached to your hip: it’s a very specific type of boot camp with the tiniest, loudest drill sergeant you’ve ever met.
But while I’ve never been more active than I’ve been since having my son, Jack, it took several years post-birth for my body to feel like my own again. Few escape pregnancy without a mark, birth fewer still, and after an emergency C-section, a year of breastfeeding and the most stressful period of my life, not only did I feel like a stranger in my own body, but I was single for the first time in over a decade.
So, two, nay, three reasons to get into shape. One, to reconnect with my body and reclaim it from my lovely, but very demanding child, who was growing nicely into his own body. Two, to feel confident, strong and as if I wouldn’t be filled with horror at the thought of someone new seeing it. Three, it’s probably good for you to exercise occasionally, no? And since I’m a one-woman-band and responsible for a child, I should probably look after myself to the best of my ability.
And why running? As a single mother, time and money are two things I have a (very) limited supply of. I have very little time without Jack, and that time is generally spent working. I’m usually house-bound in the evenings, so escaping to a class or to the gym is impossible. Fitness DVDs and living room yoga are fine in theory but often involve stepping on Lego mid-vinyasa which can somewhat disrupt your flow, and neither give the endorphin rush that some alfresco cardio delivers.
Running has also been proven to reduce anxiety, depression and stress. And what single mother isn’t stressed? (The ones who run, perhaps?) The glorious thing about running is that you can do it anywhere, anytime, and it doesn’t cost a penny (trainers and joggers aside). I could take the bus to drop Jack at nursery and run the mile home. I could let Jack ride his scooter at full speed to the park and race him on foot. I could take a change of clothes to the office and use my lunch hour for a run along the river instead of doing yet another Pret run.
The logical next step, then, is to turn those ‘coulds’ into ‘woulds’ and get out there and do it.
Still not convinced? Here are five expert-approved reasons to give running a go…
1. Runners live longer. Studies show that runners have a 25%-40% reduced risk of premature mortality and live roughly three years longer than non-runners.
2. Research demonstrates that running can lower cortisol levels, meaning it can help to manage stress, anxiety and depression.
3. If your racing mind is keeping you awake (even more than a thrashing toddler), running could even help improve your sleep. Research shows that just 30 minutes of running a week for three weeks can boost sleep quality, mood and concentration during the day.
4. If you’re trying to shift some weight gained during pregnancy, running is an excellent way to do it. Walking and power-walking help to improve cardiovascular health, but picking up the pace to a run is the best way to boost your weight loss, according to the experts. Running also helps to boost your post-exercise oxygen consumption meaning you will burn more calories after your workout, too.
5. Aside from the other mental health benefits, studies also show that regular running or other cardiovascular activities can help improve your self-esteem through improved perception of body image and physical fitness.
So, runners live longer, sleep better, stay slimmer and feel happier? Sign me up. A mild life-long aversion to running can surely be easily overcome. The first mile is the hardest. (Apparently.)
Rebecca will be writing about her fitness journey for the Evening Standard. Follow her progress here.
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