Liz celebrates finishing the Virgin Marathon in 2012
Elite long-distance runner Liz Yelling – medal-winning marathon runner and former training partner of Paula Radcliffe – is due to give birth to twins in October (she already has a four-year-old daughter, Ruby). But is that stopping her from staying in shape? Not a chance.
‘Running makes me feel good, being active makes me feel good. I’m still exercising, but I’m walking more now,’ she explains, having just hit the 22-week mark. ‘I’ve had to listen to my body and make adjustments.’
So what does Liz recommend for pregnant women or new mums who are keen to keep fit?
‘As a busy mum, it can be difficult to sit down at home and do some yoga or find a class that fits in,’ she explains. Running is an ideal means of exercise for women in the earlier stages of pregnancy, and for new mums - it’s low maintenance, easy to squeeze into a busy schedule, and low cost.
‘My advice would be to find the time to get out for even half an hour or 20 minutes, and to build a routine into your week,’ Liz adds.
These are four top tips – based on Liz’s own experiences as a mother and an expectant mother – for keeping fit pre-and-post birth:
1 Build up your post-birth routine slowly
Returning to running after Ruby’s birth was a gradual process for the athlete, ‘I did two weeks of walking, two weeks of run-walking, and so by six weeks I was back doing half an hour of running four or five times a week.’
This steady, unhurried approach to exercising was key to getting back into an active lifestyle without piling the pressure on.
‘I did give myself a window of six months to build myself up to a hundred miles a week. If you get back into it too quickly and don’t enjoy being a mum, you risk missing out and sustaining injuries. Plus, I wanted to make sure I had the energy to breastfeed.’
2 Eat sensibly
Whether you’re pregnant or nursing a newborn, nutrition is one of the core pillars of health - plus, eating well will give you more energy for exercising.
A runner’s nutrition rules should be all about eating ‘wholesome, nutritious foods that actually give you something rather than just eating empty calories,’ advises Liz, who assures that she hasn’t changed her diet significantly since her days of competitive running.
Her top tips for keeping energy levels high? Focus on foods that are unprocessed. Nuts, raisins, wholemeal grains, lots of fruit, vegetables and fish will give you the most energy for your runs – and for raising children.
Nuts and bananas are Liz’s favourite go-to foods for refueling post-run. ‘For me, it’s thinking about the food you put in your mouth and your baby’s, if you’re breastfeeding,’ she explains.
3 Run with your baby
Running is also a great way of getting out and exercising with your newborn in tow – plus, it can help to combat the baby blues. ‘It’s nice to be able to go running because sometimes you can feel a bit tied to the house,’ explains Liz, who invested in a Baby Jogger after the birth of Ruby so that she could run with her daughter. ‘I found that Ruby slept when I was running, and it created a really good routine with her.’
For those struggling with the stressful post-partum period, exercising can prove therapeutic, too.
‘Mind research shows that 94% of those who exercise regularly find it has a positive impact on their mental health,’ explains Liz, who is supporting the charity and it's partnership with the Royal Parks Half Marathon in October. ‘Your hormones are all over the place when you give birth, and when you go back home after a run, you feel more ready to tackle everything.’
Adding a social element into the mix – like joining a running or a buggy-fit group –can also be a boost. ‘It enables you to talk about any issues that might be on your mind with like-minded people,’ Liz adds. ‘Often, people will say, “I had a similar experience”, and then mums don’t feel like they’re trying to deal with things on their own.’
4 Focus on intensity
For new mums who are aiming to fit back into their pre-pregnancy jeans, but don’t have time to spend hours exercising, Liz offers one core keep-fit rule, ‘If you want to build your fitness, but haven’t got the time, the best way is to make sure you up the intensity.’
This might mean integrating interval training into your routine, adding hills to your route, or just running that bit faster than usual. ‘It gives you a really good endorphin rush and it really gets the heart beating,’ she adds. Plus, alternating short bursts of intense activity with stints of less strenuous exercise burns more calories than running at one sustained pace.
Places are still available runners to take on the Royal Parks Half Marathon on 6 October, 2013, in aid of the charity, Mind. Visit www.mind.org.uk/royalparks for more information, or click here to watch a short video.
- Liz Yelling