Q+A with Shakira Akabusi (Strong Like Mum)

Q+A with Shakira Akabusi (Strong Like Mum)

When it comes to empowerment during the pre and post-natal period, Shakira Akabusi wrote the book. Literally. A Women’s Health Expert, founder and author of Strong Like Mum and a mother to 4 children, we couldn’t wait to take a moment to sit with Shakira to chat about how we can shatter that stereotype of ‘mums’ and see our inner power and strength.


Shakira, how did it all start for you? What led you to being so passionate about communicating health and wellness to others?


I will never forget, about 10 years ago, I was working as a personal trainer and I read an article which stated that only 5.5% of fitness industry professionals were qualified in pre and postnatal exercise. This seemed like a huge failing from the wellness industry for women, many of whom will at some time in their life be pre and postnatal. This was when I began to specialise in pre and postnatal fitness.

When I then became pregnant myself, I found that an overwhelming number of people constantly wanted to tell me of all the things I’d never do again as a mum. I’d never sleep again, never have time for myself let alone exercise, never run as fast etc. The messaging was that motherhood was the end of something, as opposed to the beginning.


I found the experience the exact opposite.


Motherhood certainly has its challenging moments, but I’ve found it so liberating. I found that through parenthood I discovered new levels of resilience and strength within myself, both physically and mentally.


I began sharing my journey online and many women related to my journey. I then began to share my expertise and in that way StrongLikeMum began. 


I’m sure you’ve been asked more than once, how do you manage the juggle with 4 children and still bring so much energy, determination and resilience to the many, many roles you have (and how do we get some)?


Hahaha! In all honesty, it looks different every day. Some days I have lots of energy, other days I feel like I’m half asleep by lunch time. I do, however, always manage to find energy somehow.

The first thing that is crucial is being able to forgive yourself quickly when you get it wrong. I’m certainly not perfect and sometimes I let work-related stress filter into family life. I try to be aware when this is happening and not take it out on those closest to me but I also forgive myself on the occasions I get it wrong. I explain to my family that my stress isn’t down to them and I try to set it aside and focus on being with the people I love. I also let go of any guilt quickly. That isn’t helpful or productive at all and just zaps energy further.


In terms of day-to-day life - finding energy and managing a busy schedule, firstly - I love what I do. Both parenting and my work, which makes it so much more manageable. If you enjoy what you do, you’ll be motivated to stick to it and prioritise it. Three things that really help me to get everything done is - support, boundaries and flexible planning.

 

  1. My support network is so important. I’m not doing it alone and I’m not afraid to ask for help. Those closest to me know how important my family and my work is to me and they help to support me with childcare etc. when they can. It takes a lot of communication. It’s a busy juggling act in our household with two working parents but we communicate very clearly every week about what our demands are and how we can help each other to get things done.

  2. The boundaries I put in place are mostly with myself. When I'm at work, I focus on my work but then when it’s family time, I try my best to really be in the moment and not worry about work. I love my job but I also know there is more to life than just work and I revel in playing with my children and logging off from business. Also, for my marriage, as we’re both working, time for each other can be the last thing on the list. We try to set aside at least an hour in the evenings to sit together and talk. No TV, no children - just to communicate and share elements of our day.

  3. Flexible planning is probably the most important thing. I know it sounds strange but the more of a plan/schedule that I have, the easier it is for me to manage when it changes, which is often last minute. With family life, things are always happening all of a sudden and I have learnt to be comfortable with last minute change and stay calm when I have to amend my plans.

 



What has been one of your biggest learnings in supporting your own health after having your first child to your family constellation growing? 


To give yourself TIME! And to recognise that time isn’t the same for everyone.

With my first postpartum experience my body recovered quite quickly. However, with my twin birth, I had a caesarean section and the recovery took much longer. Often in the media, postpartum rehab is shown as being quick, and we’re bombarded with headlines of ‘snap back in just 5 months’ or something similar. However, the truth is that sustainable change takes time and laying good foundations is the key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.


I have also learnt to respect the powerful connection between body and mind. I know that if I am emotionally stressed, my body will begin to feel it, but it also works in reverse. If I can physically move my body, jog or stretch I know it will really help to release emotional stress. 


I know that taking a little time away to relax my mind and move my body will help me to approach parenting much more positively and with much more energy.

Sometimes we might see exercise as something that drains us of energy but movement actually generates energy in our cells so it’s a great way to improve our mood and mindset!


What’s one of the biggest misconceptions people have about their body during or after pregnancy that you’re passionate about bringing light to?


That after pregnancy your body will be weaker or broken. This is a myth! Pregnancy certainly changes our body but it’s not ‘broken’. It’s just created and birthed life… is there anything more powerful!?


I have run faster, lifted heavier and started new sporting hobbies since becoming a mum. Honestly, if there’s one thing pregnancy and motherhood has taught me, it’s that the human body is amazing and the female body is a powerhouse. The journey it goes on is incredible and we should have ultimate respect for how it heals and continues to support us and our families post-pregnancy.


We also need to change our perspective of what ‘strong’ means. Strong isn’t just lifting heavy weights. I have a deep rooted respect for what the female body goes through during and after birth and it’s just mind blowing how it continues to support us and our families throughout every day.


Physically, postpartum also gives us a brilliant opportunity to really consider the foundations that we are laying in terms of exercise, with our deep core, so that we can have a good base on which to build future exercise.


In your book, Strong Like Mum, you delve into language and ways to adopt a positive mindset - where can people start with this? 


The language we surround ourselves with is huge - not only to our mental wellbeing - but it can actually have a direct impact on our physical health. There are studies that support the theory that affirmations and positive language can have a direct impact on the results of a goal we’re trying to achieve.


This language can be the words we say, or the words we absorb through media, or that others around us use.


In my book I share a model called the word cycle, which demonstrates how the words we use impact our thoughts. This in turn impacts our feelings, which dictate our beliefs and ultimately our actions.


Using positive language isn’t about ignoring the negative feelings we have - all feelings are valid. It’s about not wallowing in negativity and focusing on a mindset towards gratitude. It is about acknowledging what we do have and taking steps in the direction we want.


Mantra’s and affirmations can be a great place to start. This includes a statement that not only acknowledges where we are, but that also focuses on the ability we have to progress to where we want to be. This can be used for fitness goals as well as in our personal lives or within a business setting.


In a recent post on your channel you shared some (quite shocking) findings from a recent study showing the huge ‘gender gap’ when it comes to fitness. An incredible 61% of women cited motherhood as being the primary reason they dropped out of regular exercise and 50% of women became less active as they got older. First, why is it important for us to exercise as we age (even if we’re active whilst looking after our family) and how can we overcome this barrier? 


There are so many reasons as to why exercise is important at all ages, including benefits to our physical health, as well as our immune system and mental wellbeing.

As we age, in particular, it’s important that we continue with strength training. There is a myth that our metabolism naturally slows down as we move through our 30’s but this isn’t actually accurate.


Studies have shown that our metabolism stays pretty consistent between 20-60, however what is impacted is our lean muscle mass. We lose approximately 3-8% of our lean muscle mass every decade, and this can impact our metabolic function. Lean muscle burns calories more efficiently than body fat, so the more lean muscle we have, the more efficiently our metabolism will function. We can offset this natural decrease of muscle mass by continuing to include strength training into our workout, thereby supporting a healthy and efficient metabolism.

 


Do you have a favourite Ancient + Brave product? What’s your top tips for fueling yourself across the day?


Yes! I love them. My two favourites are the True Hydration and True Nightcap powders. Staying hydrated is always important, particularly if you are engaging in a lot of exercise. I often have a really busy schedule and it suddenly gets to the afternoon and I realise I haven’t had enough to drink. I use true hydration to make sure I keep a good balance of electrolytes. I love the fact that Ancient and Brave products contain no artificial flavours or sweeteners. Amazing! 

 

https://www.stronglikemum.com/what-we-do

 

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