CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After sorting through a file of readers' emails recently, I pulled together a few that posed similar questions. What was interesting was that the inquiries came from mothers in various stages of motherhood.One was from a young mom who wanted fitness guidance on getting her "pre-pregnancy" body back; one frantic mom asked how to fit in her own workouts with her three over-scheduled children and job outside the home; one disheartened mom wrote to say that at 53, she doubted she would ever feel good about her body again and to please help; and one seasoned mom/now grandmother wondered what type of activity would be most beneficial to ease her arthritis pain, saying she longed to feel like a young mom again.Each of these mothers had similar goals -- to feel good and to have a body that pleased them. But answering their questions would require not one, but four completely different responses. Looking at these emails collectively made me zero in on who was writing rather than what they were writing. So, how do moms at every age pursue the common goal of feeling and looking their best?New mom
• Challenge -- Her physical frame has just undergone a major metamorphosis. She doesn't recognize her body or even the feel of her skin. Her breasts are tender and obviously don't have the greatest muscle memory; her energy is low and stress level high; she senses everyone watching as she assumes the duty of motherhood in her sleep-deprived state.• Focus -- This is a time for patience and steady progression.• Goal -- If you are a healthy mom with an uncomplicated delivery, you can resume moderate intensity exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week once your doctor has given you the green light. Increase time and/or intensity as you can.• Detail -- Choose activities that increase your heart rate for at least 20 minutes for cardiovascular health as well as time for strength training and flexibility. Strollers are perfect portable gyms. Just add infant and go; they become a progressive weight for you to push and, of course, it's great for baby too. Regular physical activity along with a few minutes of quiet relaxation will build energy reserves and will fight post-partum depression.Working mom
• Challenge -- She is partially or fully responsible for supporting school and extracurricular schedules of children, meeting the demands of a full-time job outside the home, running errands, housekeeping, grocery shopping and preparing meals for an active family.• Focus -- Put YOU on the calendar and make carving out time for yourself a priority each day.• Goal -- Whether it's a brisk neighborhood walk or push-ups and lunges on your stairs, acknowledge that you deserve attention too and commit to moving your body physically in some way each day. On the most hectic days, it may only be 15 to 20 minutes and others, if you plan right, may be 60 to 90 minutes.• Detail -- If you have children involved in lots of activities, plan how you can make the most of your idle time. Instead of sitting on bleachers watching a practice, walk and get some cardio in instead; Rather than chatting with other parents about kid issues, encourage them to walk with you as you solve the problems of the world. On weekends and weekday evenings, enlist support from family to free you up so that you can slip in a yoga video or a dance practice. Not only will you be getting what you need, you'll be setting a valuable example for the children. At work, find like-minded co-workers and spend half your lunch hour walking stairs. If your office has wellness activities, take advantage of this healthy service.Self-defeated mom
• Challenge -- She has devoted her life to caring for everyone except herself. She never gave it a second thought while she was in her mothering mode, but now the kids are pretty much on their own and she's left to deal with a negative self-image, a sedentary body, with a lack of confidence around other mothers who've stayed active and with frustration at not knowing where to begin.
• Focus -- Recognize it is never too late to start caring for yourself. Small changes will make a big impact on health and give you the confidence that you can definitely work toward the body you desire.• Goal -- Make a SMART plan today. It's a goal you set that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. For example, someone who has been inactive for a while may want to say: I want to be able to walk a mile without stopping in four weeks (identify a date) and I'm going to do it by walking every morning at the high school track for 20 minutes.• Detail -- This is a wonderful time in life to be a mom. You may not have the energy right now, but it's likely you may have a little more time to call your own. Take advantage of this time. (Caregivers often feel more comfortable finding new people to care for when family duties dwindle rather than taking care of their own needs). Learn about eating healthy, and find ways to exercise that make you smile and want more. It's not how you feel about the activity, it's about how the activity makes you feel.Wise mom
• Challenge -- She has more time than ever to exercise, but wants an activity that makes her feel better every step of the way.• Focus -- Kinder and gentler activity with an emphasis on joint range of movement and functional fitness.
• Goal -- If possible, find a facility that offers aquatic classes and muscle strengthening programs for older adults. If this isn't possible, look at reputable exercise videos made for those with arthritis and other limitations.• Detail -- Videos featuring yoga, Tai Chi and chair exercise are excellent at-home choices. Activity that addresses joint health, flexibility, muscular endurance, posture and breathing will be extremely beneficial in the way you look and feel. The Arthritis Foundation (www.arthritis.org
), SilverSneakers (www.silversneakers.com
) and the National Institute on Aging (www.nih.gov
), and in particular, www.go4life.niapublications.org
all have informative websites that facilitate healthy aging.Cindy Boggs, fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified instructor/trainer since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to her at YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for Cindy's award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World," at www.cindysays.com, or contact the YMCA at 304-340-3527.