Ask EP: Exercise

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Q:  Any chance on finding us a few studies that demonstrate that walking kids to school and wearing a baby while you vaccuum/cook/clean house/garden/run errands counts as a work out?

-          Katie from the UK

A:  You’re in luck then J  It turns out there actually IS evidence that the things we do while caring for kids counts as a workout, or at the very least, helps us burn more calories!  First off, while many people discount walking as a real form of exercise, it actually turns out to be unbelievably healthy and beneficial.  It is also one of the few forms of exercise that seems to not have a high drop-out rate, meaning once people get going with it, they tend to stick with it which is great for long-term health benefits.  Research comparing land walking with water aerobics or water walking was found to be equally effective at weight loss and general health improvements.  Furthermore, for post-partum moms, an intervention study utilizing a walking group (while pushing a stroller) was found to reduce the incidence of post-partum depression.  So if you’re walking your kids to school, it’s helping.  Of course, the general recommendation is to do a 30-min walk so if taking your kid to school and back isn’t that long, then you may want to try and extend your walk to that level.

Babywearing is another way to gain more exercise.  It is worth stating that chores around the house count as exercise.  There are exercise programs based on the calories burned while cleaning, cooking, vacuuming, etc. so don’t think it’s nothing.  You do need to make sure that you’re working hard doing it, but most of the time that’s just natural!  At the very basic level, babywearing adds weight and the more you weigh, the more calories you burn doing any type of exercise (walking included).  And although a newborn only weighs about 7 lbs on average, it works out to about an extra 5-10 calories per mile walked (this gets to be even more as baby grows and may be more for different types of exercise).  You also get the weight exercise of lifting the baby, which is probably why many moms notice they end up with stronger arms post-pregnancy than before.  Furthermore, because the weight of carrying a baby is typically concentrated in the front chest area, it becomes a very good workout to build the back and leg muscles, specifically.

What I found to be very interesting in examining this was that an anthropological analysis of post-partum exercise was focused on how to decrease the extra “energy cost” of having to take a baby around all day.  This was actually what seems to have (partially) led to babywearing—slings kept babies close but also served to reduce the amount of energy expended compared to having to carry a baby in arms.  In fact, if you really want a good exercise, instead of using a sling, carry your baby in your arms for a walk and according to one study, you’ll burn nearly 20% more calories than wearing your baby in a sling!

So while it may not be the best exercise – it’s no 3-mile run or aerobics class – walking and carrying your baby do count as exercise J  And I can only imagine that as your child gets older and you find yourself running around the playground after him or her!

Sources:

Daley AJ, MacArthur C, Winter H.  The role of exercise in treating postpartum depression: a review of the literature.  Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health 2007; 52: 56-62.

Gappmaier E, Lake W, Nelson AG, Fisher AG.  Aerobic exercise in water versus walking on land: effects on indices of fat reduction and weight loss of obese women.  Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 2006; 46: 564-569.

http://childrensmd.org/browse-by-age-group/newborn-infants/should-you-wear-a-baby-sling/ (Accessed January 20, 2012)

Siegel PZ, Brackbill RM, Health GW.  The epidemiology of walking for exercise: implications for promoting activity among sedentary groups.  American Journal of Public Health 1995; 85: 706-710.

Wall-Scheffler CM, Geiger K, Steudel-Numbers KL.  Infant carrying: the role of increased locomotory costs in early tool development.  American Journal of Physical Anthropology 2007; 133: 841-846.

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