Women and exercise


Exercise – we women need to be passionate about it! Women who exercise feel great and look great, so here are some neat ideas.

What is exercise?Tips for successful exercisingWhat counts as exercise? : How often should I exercise?What are the benefits of exercise? : What are the risks involved with exercise? : How can women who exercise help their children?Useful articles

What is exercise?

Exercise is activity which improves health and fitness.

Aerobic exercise uses up oxygen, so your heart will beat faster and your breathing rate will speed up. This is great for keeping fit and weight loss or weight maintenance.

Anaerobic exercise improves muscle strength, such as weight training.

Flexibility exercise, such as stretching, increases suppleness and the range of movements your joints can undergo.

Tips for successful exercising

  • Appropriate footwear – a cross trainer is a good start if you’re not sure what will be right for you
  • Warm up and cool down, it only adds a couple of minutes at each end and helps to avoid injury
  • Gently stretch before and after sport
  • Drink plenty fluids, preferably water, before, during and after. Thirst means you should have drunk a lot more, a lot sooner
  • Take a light snack a couple of hours before and after sport to replace lost energy.

What counts as exercise?

Do you know what is so cool? So much of what we do counts as exercise! Here are some ideas:

The dreaded housework counts as exercise – vacuuming, cleaning, gardening and tidying up (we do plenty of that as mums!) all use up calories. So get that music blasting and off you go.

Walking is great exercise. Unfortunately when we walk with wee ones, we go so slow we could almost stop, so that’s not great for getting your heart rate up, but it still beats sitting on the couch.

Speed walking is fantastic exercise. You’re unlikely to injure yourself and it can be built into you daily routine, such as walking to pick the kids up, walking to the dairy for milk or walking to work. Or, what’s great fun is to meet up with a friend 3 mornings a week, while everyone else is still getting ready or even still in bed. You get an uninterrupted chat and a reason to get up and going. You’re much less likely to back out if you’ve made an arrangement. Put on some comfortable running or walking shoes and any cotton clothing. Start with a short walk then pick up the pace, add in a hill or two and before you know it those jeans will feel great again.

Running is also great exercise and there are all speeds to choose from. It’s great to run with someone of a similar pace who lives nearby. It also adds to the safety factor and motivation factor. Ensure you are wearing well fitted shoes that are suitable for running, as most running injuries are related to poor footwear. But remember, once you’ve invested in some good shoes, there are little extra costs to running. Running is addictive, once you start going 2-3 times a week it becomes a lot more enjoyable and soon you’ll be hooked.

Cycling is a great way to get about and is fantastic aerobic exercise. Bikes can be expensive, but borrow one initially if you are unsure and don’t forget your helmet and lights. Safety is paramount for road cycling, so read up on your highway code too. This is a great activity to do with your kids, especially on holiday.

There’s nothing quite like swimming for toning up. It’s not that sociable, but it’s still good to meet up with a mate as it adds to motivation. Some hard cases swim all year around. I’m very much a summer swimmer, but once I get into it I’m hooked for the season. Injuries from swimming are almost unheard of, but here are a few tips:

  • If you get back ache, avoid breast stroke, it puts too much pressure on the lower back
  • When doing front crawl, breath every three strokes, so that you alternate which way you turn your neck.
  • Don’t go with a cold, earache or sore throat, especially in the winter.
  • To keep the cost down, buy a swim card at your local pool, usually this makes quite a difference as lots of pools do discounts for regular swimmers.

Racket sports, such as tennis, badminton and squash are great fun and you do an hour’s exercise without the long hard tedium that a run can be to some people. A regular court booking each weekend keeps you motivated and will leave you buzzing. Again appropriate shoes are vital as the twisting associated with racket sports can soon lead to sprains and injuries without proper footwear. And don’t forget the warm up and cool down – you may think you’re in too much of a rush, but a sprain will soon slow you down – for weeks!

Team sports, such as netball, volley ball, basket ball, hockey or soccer are sociable and fun and offer amazing exercise. Your drive for the ball overcomes how tired you feel and you’re much more likely to have a really hard work out. Protect yourself from injury with correct footwear and a good warm up and stretch. You don’t need to be Irene Van Dyke to enjoy a game – get a few mums together for a fun game of netball on a Sunday at your kids’ school. The children can either join in or play on the climbing frame while the mums throw a ball around for an hour – the first week may be hard, but it’s amazing how quickly the body adjusts and the game is easier and more fun.

How often should I exercise?

Any exercise, no matter how infrequent is good news!

For it to be enjoyable though, 3 times a week is a great idea.

But find a combination that works for you, for example:

  • A short daily walk
  • A big game every weekend with two shorter sessions mid week
  • A run alternate days
  • Mixing favourite sports and doing each once a week.

Just ensure it suits your lifestyle and you enjoy it, or it won’t last.

What are the benefits of exercise?

The benefits of exercise are huge!

Short term benefits of exercise:

  • Exercise sets you up for the day – your body will produce endorphins, which are natural opiates and leave you felling great
  • Exercise warms you up – much needed in New Zealand winters
  • Exercise is often sociable
  • Your clothes will quickly feel better and look better too
  • You can enjoy some yummy foods without piling on the weight
  • You’re setting your kids a great example, they love to see their parents out playing a game
  • You’ll enjoy being with your kids more as you will have loads more energy
  • You will actually sleep better
  • People who exercise are less prone to pick up bugs and colds as their immune system also benefits from exercise.

Long term benefits of exercise

  • Lowered blood pressure and lowered risk of associated risks, such as stroke and heart attack
  • Normal body weight, which reduces risks of disease associated with obesity
  • A strong heart and lungs
  • Improved gastro intestinal function, with reduced constipation
  • Healthier joints and stronger muscles
  • A huge sense of well being and improved mental health, including lowered rates of depression.

Never feel guilty about setting aside time for your own exercise. Mothers spend hours driving their kids to sport and watching from the side line. But their health matters too!

What are the risks involved with exercise?

Some forms of exercise do carry risk. To reduce these risks follow some basic tips:

  • Warm up and cool down to prevent muscle strain
  • Stretch to avoid injury
  • Do invest in the correct footwear
  • Start gently and build up your programme to avoid fatigue
  • Avoid sport if you are feeling run down due to a cold or infection
  • Slow down your programme if you think you may have taken on too much
  • Speak to your doctor if you are concerned about whether you should take up a new form of exercise.

How can women who exercise help their children?

  • Mothers who exercise have loads more energy to enjoy being with their children
  • They are setting a great example of life long exercise
  • They are healthier and will have less illness themselves, making them more able to care for others
  • Exercise makes you sleep better, so be less cranky!

Let’s go girls!

In this fully revised edition, a naturopathic physician shows women how to use the latest in natural therapies to heal your body and promote good health. This essential illustrated natural health resource for all women shows how women can use nutrition, lifestyle and natural therapies to keep themselves fit and well.

Useful articles

For more information on healthy eating habits, visit our article Women and Diet

Women need time out in order to function effectively in their many roles in life – click here to read more about it.


Paula Skelton

Paula Skelton is a qualified NZ nurse and midwife, a midwifery & childbirth educator and the mum of three lovely girls.

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  • Julzdarroch

    Wow! Go you, what an awesome tribe.
    The best thing I could do for you
    is grant you a couple of extra hours in your day. But my time adding
    skills are a bit rusty so let’s see what else we can come up with. But
    first off remember this- exercise is great, and really important to keep
    you sane but make sure you don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t make it
    into every day, especially with a wee one. Exercise should be there to
    add quality to your life not become a burden.

    Instead of trying
    to find a spare hour or so all at once to exercise think about bits of
    exercise that take only a couple of minutes and scatter them throughout
    the day. Some simple examples are some squats while the jug is boiling
    or the dinner is on……… push ups on the edge of the bath tub while
    the kids are in it……..abdominal braces while you fold the washing.
    It doesn’t sound like much but it’s all about starting with a plan you can achieve and build from there.
    you want some specifics on exercises you can print off a pdf with
    pictures and technique on mumsville at my website- the pdf is called
    post baby exercises.
    Take care and keep in touch.

  • RachelA

    I have four beautiful children 7,3,2, and 4months. How do I find the
    time to exercise, apart from the wak to and from school? All ideas
    gratefully received

  • Julzdarroch

    The mid year holidays can strike dread into even the most zen parent.
    Two weeks off in the middle of winter means there is a likelihood of
    some long stretches of inside time with the kids.
    Which means that
    those of us who look forward to a regular workout (or more often a ‘when
    I can fit it around everything else’ workout) are faced with
    entertaining the kids without any heart racing or weight lifting stress

    So yet again the workout gets shelved for another couple of weeks.

    it doesn’t have to be all bad news, there are some things you can do
    during the holidays so that getting back into your regular routine come
    the end of July won’t be as challenging.

    The incidental exercise
    we do contributes to our health and fitness just as the ‘real’ workouts
    do. So the key is to keep moving rather than surrendering to the lounge
    for the duration.

    1) Laugh! One of the benefits of exercise
    is that feel good hormones are released when our heart rate goes up.
    While a good chuckle won’t reduce your waistline it will improve your
    mood AND you won’t need a shower afterwards.
    2) Get Wet! On the
    slightly less awful days hit the streets. Little ones can cocoon in
    buggies and the older kids can be wrapped up too so you can get out for a
    power (depending on the length of your kid’s legs) walk. Heading
    straight home afterwards means you can get warm and dry quickly
    3) Workout at home. There are plenty of simple exercises
    you can do to improve your strength and flexibility without having a
    home gym or leaving the house. Squats (holding milk bottles for extra
    resistance), tricep dips off the dining room chairs or step-ups off the
    bottom step. You don’t have to work out for a long duration for it to be
    worth your while, slipping in a few minutes here and there is better
    than nothing at all.
    4) Do a Jane Fonda. You don’t have to go as far
    as the leotard and leg warmers though. There are a fair few exercise
    DVD’s available to work out with and these days there are plenty to
    choose from that won’t make you feel the burn.
    For a handy FREE
    printout of some more exercises you can do to keep you sane throughout
    the holidays email julz@julzdarroch.co.nz and we’ll send them through to

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