‘Stroller strides’ help new moms lose weight

Pregnancy and childbirth are among the greatest events in life. The physiologic changes potentially impact every aspect of a woman’s body.

The most disheartening change for most women is weight gain. Ideally a woman should gain 25 to 30 pounds during pregnancy. This number can increase drastically with inactivity and overeating.

One of the most difficult challenges is returning to pre-pregnancy weight and physical activity. Among the obstacles to achieving this goal include erratic sleep schedules, demands of returning to work and caring for a new baby.

An outstanding solution to this problem is a program called “Stroller Strides.” Stroller Strides is a national, total fitness program for new mothers. It consists of a combination of aerobic and resistive exercise performed along with a child six weeks after giving birth.

The configuration of a stroller has changed over time. The large, inflated tires along with lightweight construction are perfect for running and power walking. The resistance component is introduced with the use of resistive bands and body-weight exercises.

April Holtmeyer is a certified instructor and local franchise owner who lost 145 pounds after giving birth to her first child.

“I always struggled with weight gain and found myself obese and a new mother. My obstetrician confronted me with the likelihood that I would die young and have to leave this beautiful child behind,” said Holtmeyer.

After moving to Eastern Connecticut, she purchased a local franchise and leads classes consisting of 15 to 20 mothers and children.

One hour sessions are offered six days-per-week; most participants attend four sessions per week. An added benefit is the social interaction among the mothers and children. The playgroup aspect helps combat post-partum depression.

Stroller Strides is a program worth considering for young mothers. If interested, visit www.strollerstrides.com

Family histories are tools to avoid sports injuries

Alarming numbers of children are the victims of sports-related injuries each year. Unfortunately, some of those are fatal.

Sports medicine specialists throughout the world persistently look for ways to avoid these tragedies. Perhaps one way is already within grasp.

One of the most important parts of a medical examination is recording a family history. Information regarding illnesses that have affected a patient’s ancestors is noted.

Diagnostic tests are growing in cost and the expense related to screening every athlete for potentially deadly conditions is prohibitive for many athletic programs.

Often the family medical history will indicate what tests will have the most value, based on specific conditions.

• Neurologic. Athletes in whom there is a family history of brain aneurysms should have radiologic studies to screen for any vascular abnormality. Epileptic seizures in close relatives or in the athlete’s childhood can be further investigated with an EEG. A family history of dementia at an early age suggests caution when participating in contact sports where concussions are common.

Cardiac. Screening tests to avoid sudden cardiac death are increasingly common. These examinations are imperative for athletes with a family history of abnormal cardiac rhythms, coronary artery disease at a young age or sudden cardiac death. An EKG or echocardiogram is a useful screening test.

Hematologic. Sickle cell trait and a variety of inherited forms of anemia can lead to abnormal clotting and decreased oxygenation of vital organs.

The success of this strategy is based on full disclosure by parents regarding the family medical history. Some families have refused to submit their children for testing despite the potential danger.

Careful attention to physical risk based on family medical history can make sports participation safer.

Exercise helps those with Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurologic illness that results in abnormal function of the central nervous system. Despite the seriousness of the diagnosis, exercise can be therapeutic and should be encouraged.

MS typically affects men and women between the ages of 20 and 40. There are two types of MS. The relapsing and remitting form consists of episodes of visual loss, numbness or weakness that improve. A more serious, chronic, progressive form follows a slowly deteriorating pattern.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans are particularly sensitive to changes in nerve cells resulting in the formation of MS plaques. This has permitted earlier diagnosis and initiation of treatment.

Immunosuppressive medications have successfully reduced the number of MS relapses and slowed progression. Recent studies have shown that patients who suffer from MS and exercise regularly perform better on objective tests.

Any exercise regimen should only be performed after physician approval. The goals should be as follows:

• An adequate period of warm-up and stretching

• A minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three days per week

• Resistance exercise on alternating days

• Activities that improve balance

One area of concern for patients is the potential for making symptoms worse when exposed to extreme heat. MS patients must be especially careful not to exercise on hot days and to remain hydrated. Cooling vests are sometimes recommended to provide a more tolerable environment.

Among the best fitness activities for patients with MS are swimming, cycling, running and martial arts. Participation in group activities also provides a social outlet.

Inactivity can lead to joint spasticity and muscle atrophy. It can also lead to diminished coordination and potentially deadly falls.

Any treatment plan for MS should include a combination of medication and an appropriate fitness regimen.

Tai chi and fibromyalgia

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the effectiveness of tai chi in the treatment of fibromyalgia.

Tai chi is a form of self-defense developed in China more than 2,000 years ago. It consists of flowing, circular movements that emphasize balance and meditation.

Fibromyalgia is a common, painful clinical syndrome. Typical symptoms include muscle pain, stiffness, fatigue, sleep disturbances and mood changes. It affects about 200 million people throughout the world. Symptoms vary with levels of stress, climactic conditions and other triggering events.

Tai chi has been described as an effective way of relieving painful musculoskeletal conditions, including low back pain. It has also provided a complementary treatment for cardiovascular conditions. This is the first time it has been studied in conjunction with fibromyalgia.

The study reported on 66 patients randomly assigned to a group participating in either tai chi classes or a wellness education and stretching session. At least 79 percent of the tai chi participants reported improvement of symptoms, while only 39 percent of the wellness group felt they had improved.

“I'm not surprised by the results of the study,” said David Chandler, a tai chi master from Quaker Hill. “I've worked with many patients with fibromyalgia over the years and in fact some have become tai chi instructors.”

Chandler’s classes include many people with medical conditions who have been encouraged by their physicians to participate in a fitness endeavor. He has found that brief, daily tai chi sessions can be very effective while patients are gradually increasing their stamina.

Medications used to treat fibromyalgia include antidepressants, anticonvulsants and anti-inflammatory agents. The response to long-term medical treatment alone has been disappointing.

Despite the need for further research, the potential benefits of a combined treatment approach that includes tai chi are encouraging.