Mental and physical health for mums at a time of lockdown

How can mums keep healthy and reduce anxiety during the current pandemic? Our latest webinar aims to give you some ideas.

Mother and child both doing the downward dog yoga pose


How can parents who are facing the double whammy of homeworking and homeschooling or childcare keep healthy, both physically and mentally?’s latest webinar has some advice. Claire Cole, founder of Movement for Mums which is offering free workouts for parents during lockdown, spoke to founder Gillian Nissim about the importance of physical exercise for mental well being.

Claire, mum of two boys aged four and seven, knows what she is speaking about. She suffered from agoraphobia and anxiety in her 20s and found exercise an important way to manage that. In her 30s after her first son was born she suffered from post-natal depression and says she was on the border of post-natal psychosis. She found it hard to leave the house. Her physical health was also affected by the birth. She was incontinent for eight weeks. The phobias and fears from her 20s came back and she had a tiny baby to manage on top of that. It was hard to exercise in the circumstances, but after three months she went to the gym and says it made a huge difference to how she felt.

She returned to a job in investment banking and was doing long days with no real mental or physical support. She felt she was regressing mentally. “I wasn’t prepared for how I would feel,” she says. So she decided to set up Movement for Mums to help other mums. Six months ago she stopped her other full-time work and put all her energy into Movement for Mums which she launched as a free membership organisation.

What is the best exercise to do?

She is focused on helping mums get some movement into their lives and making them feel better about themselves. She says mums may feel a bit bombarded by advice on workouts at this time and may feel guilty as they have even less time than normal for themselves. It is hard, she says, to know which workout to do and what is good for you, depending on what stage you are at.

She often gets asked what exercise is safe for mums to do and says that depends on how fit you were before you were in lockdown. High impact classes may be okay if you are used to them, but it is important to be kind to yourself, says Claire.

Finding time to exercise is another big issue and that is about working movement into your daily life and allowing yourself time out to do some exercise. Don’t feel guilty about taking a little time out and putting your kids in front of the tv, says Claire. Your health is vital for your children’s well being. If you want to put more movement into your day, Claire suggests setting regular reminders and, for instance, walking up and down the stairs 10 times every hour or doing squats while you boil the kettle. You could also place items such as nappies further away so you have to move more.

If you are going to do classes do shorter ones, she says – get up 10 minutes earlier and do a stretch class. It doesn’t have to be an hour-long high impact class.

Do something you enjoy

Asked what people can do if they don’t feel motivated to exercise in the current situation, Claire says it is important to do something you enjoy. If you used to enjoy the social side of exercising, do some exercise with friends remotely on Zoom. It is also a good idea to remind yourself how exercising makes you feel. She suggests writing one word on your phone after an exercise session which will act as a reminder. It’s also worth remembering all the benefits of exercise, such as increased energy, the ability to think more clearly and better sleep. Also, she says it is not vital to exercise every day if you really don’t feel like it. “Exercise should not make you feel bad,” she says.  Involving the children, for instance, by turning exercise into a game, can also help.

Space can also be an issue for mums in lockdown. Claire says you only need a small corner. Move the furniture around. You can even exercise sitting on the sofa and doing stretches and you can do a whole body workout just standing in one place, increasing the difficulty of the workout by repeating it or using household items as weights. “Adapt what you normally do,” she says, recommending, for instance, doing squats at your desk. And she adds that it is important to plan exercise as you would your meals.


Speaking of food, Claire says it can be hard to avoid snacking in lockdown. She has strict kitchen rules and recommends slow-release snacks like nuts and cutting up vegetables in batches so you always have something healthy ready. Buying healthier food and smaller quantities, for instance, miniature bottles of wine, can also help and having a treat once in a while can help you stop snacking in the meantime.

Asked about worries around pregnancy and childbirth at this time, Claire says babies are not thought to be at high risk from COVID-19 generally and hospitals are generally safe places. When it comes to exercise after childbirth, it is generally recommended that women don’t start to do exercise until six to eight weeks after childbirth if they haven’t had complications. For caesarean sections, the recommendation is 12 weeks. Claire says to stay away from high impact exercise at first and to listen to your body.  If you are breastfeeding it is best to feed the baby first before you exercise.

When it comes to combating general anxiety, Claire recommends having a bath or shower before bed and not fully drying yourself as this helps to release endorphins which help you relax. High impact exercise may make you feel worse if your heart is racing due to anxiety, says Claire, so yoga or stretching may be better. Focusing on breathing [breathing in and out slowly] and visualising the anxiety lifting are also important as is sharing your anxieties with friends or your GP and generally taking time for yourself. “If you don’t have a break you won’t be able to be a good parent. Do what you can to get by, don’t feel guilty and be kind to yourself,” she states.

* is running regular webinars on mental health during lockdown. Last week’s was on children’s mental health. Look out for our next webinar on teenagers’ mental health.

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