Strolling their way into shape with kids in tow

Maryland Journal

March 06, 2006|By TYRONE RICHARDSON | TYRONE RICHARDSON,SUN REPORTER

It's 9 a.m., and The Mall in Columbia is practically empty, aside from a few store employees preparing to open their doors - and about a dozen women power-walking with baby strollers.

Moms rushing for an early-morning jump on a sale?

No, these mothers are laughing and talking about baby food and the weather, pausing every now and then to sing a nursery song as they line up for exercise - sit-ups, squats, body-sculpting stretches - in front of the closed storefronts.

They're members of the Stroller Strides of Columbia, part of a network with 275 locations around the country, including Annapolis, Baltimore and other parts of Maryland.

The program was started in 2001 by a fitness-savvy mother who invited a group of women in her San Diego neighborhood to work out with her and bring their children along.

The mall connection came a bit later. Outdoor exercise might be fine year-round in parts of sunny California, but participants elsewhere found they needed a bit more shelter now and then.

"When the weather is bad, we move indoors - like in Phoenix, they will go inside a mall or a community center when it's too hot," said Susan Glosby, franchise support director for Stroller Strides. "And shopping malls are very good because they have long walking spaces."

While mall exercising is hardly a new phenomenon, fitness experts and obstetricians say clubs like the Stroller Strides add a dimension by helping new mothers form a bond with other mothers while continuing their postpartum fitness regimen.

"It makes the woman feel better to do exercise and having the kid along," said Abike James, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania. "It sounds social with the support of other moms, so it's a plus all around."

Adina Verrett, owner of the Columbia Stroller Strides franchise, started the group in April after stumbling upon an advertisement for Stroller Strides in a fitness magazine. The Columbia group exercises Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

"I wanted the option to have my kids with me, make an income and exercise as well," Verrett said. "I worked out throughout my pregnancy, and I saw the benefit of exercise ... and I know as you become a mom, it's hard to integrate it in your life."

The first class is free, and after that the cost is $4 to $12 per class, depending on whether participants purchase a membership pass or go for a single class, Glosby said. In the warmer months, the group meets in Columbia neighborhoods like Hobbit's Glen and Jeffer's Hill.

About a dozen women are currently enrolled, Verrett said. Fathers are welcome, but none has joined so far.

"The hours of the program are typically for people that are home with their children, and that is usually the mom, not dad," Verrett said.

Karyn Shackelford and her 16-month-old daughter, Abby, have been a part of the Columbia Stroller Strides since its inception.

"Before I joined Stroller Strides, I was always active and involved in sports," said Shackelford, 28, of Catonsville. "I did not have the chance to stay involved in sports because when you have a baby involved, having time to participate is harder."

She added: "I think the best part is that the group is really friendly and supportive. We've seen each other sweating and even shared our dirty diaper stories as moms."

Shackelford said Abby enjoys the outing, though the child spends most of the time watching from the stroller.

"It's good to incorporate her in the exercise," Shackelford said. "She likes to ride in the stroller, and she likes to window shop, too."

Abby isn't the only person to spot mannequins and "sale" signs on-the-fly. The mothers say the mall provides more than just shelter from the weather.

"You can look around, window shop and hang out with your friends," said Anne Mosher, 32, of Columbia. "You really don't feel like you're exercising, but you are getting a workout, so that makes it nice."

After a recent workout, Mosher said she and Thomas, her 19-month-old son, were going to check out some bargains they'd spotted.

"We're going to do a little shopping, and then we will head home to have a nap," Mosher said.

As the mothers did early-morning sit-ups near the Lord and Taylor store entrance, some passers-by watched with puzzled expressions, as others kept walking, appearing not to notice.

Sitting on a nearby bench, Francis and Lois Baker of Silver Spring said they see the group of mothers all the time.

"I think it's great for the moms. It's a smart idea to keep the moms in shape," said Lois Baker. "This also helps keep the weight off."

As the group breezed by the mall's food court, the striders caught the attention of Lynn Waldner and her 15-month-old daughter, Mela.

Waldner, 31, of Ellicott City, said she saw her daughter's excited look and "I turned my head around to see what it was. She seemed to really like it. I would like to do it, and I never heard of it until now."

It all makes for a lively scene. On occasion, the sounds of music and exercise are interrupted by cries, baby talk and toys being dropped from strollers.

Keeping the children content during the hourlong workout is a multifaceted task, mothers said jokingly. They come armed with snacks and toys and even pause during the workout to give a little attention.

"We sing songs," said Mosher, "and the singing seems to make the kids happy."

tyrone.richardson@baltsun.com

For more information about Stroller Strides, visit strollerstrides.com. For more information about Stroller Strides of Columbia, contact Adina Verrett at 800-866-6407.

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