Being a mother takes strength.

Valerie Veitenheimer of Temple is working on her mom muscles.

With six-month-old Addison strapped to the front of her body, she flexes her arms and bends her knees in body-building lunges under the shade of a park pavilion at West Temple Park.

When she’s not carrying her baby, she’s running while pushing her in a stroller.

Two or more times a week, she joins other mothers from around Bell County as they roll up to area parks with their children in strollers.

They gather for a 60-minute total body workout that incorporates power walking, toning, songs and activities for the kids. Pregnant moms come, too.

“I work eight hours and I want to be with my baby at the end of the day,” said Veitenheimer, who works as a services coordinator for children with special needs. “So she comes with me to exercise.”

The 26-year-old is among a growing number of mothers turning to workout routines not only to slim down and tone up but to network with other moms.

Their efforts are paying off with their children, too

A recent study by Baylor College of Medicine found that by exercising, expecting mothers not only promote brain health but their unborn children are more likely to be physically active as adults.

The same holds true for older children who see their mothers working at staying fit.

To keep active and to meet other moms, Veitenheimer, an avid runner, turned to Stroller Strides, a stroller-based exercise routine that is part of a national Fit4Mom fitness program designed for moms with little ones.

“It’s a great way to stay healthy and have some fun with other moms,” Veitenheimer said.

Amber McGrath, 33, started the Temple group a year ago with just five women, shortly after moving from Arizona. She now leads about 35 women through weekly fitness routines.

“There are a lot of new families moving to the area for the military or the medical facilities here,” she said.

In the week leading up to Mother’s Day, McGrath leads mothers through a series of scissor kicks. They twist their waists and flex their quads, pausing to tickle tiny toes wiggling from inside stroller seats.

A toddler reaches for a stray bubble blown her way as McGrath jogs in place and pulls on stretchy bands.

Wearing a tank top with the words “Peace, Love and Motherhood,” she pauses to give a high-five to her own children, Ryder, 2, and Austin, 5 months. They laugh and giggle from inside a stroller as she sings “If you’re happy and you know it.”

“They have to stay in their strollers for safety sake as we exercise, but we try to make it fun and engaging for them,” McGrath said. “The best part is they get outdoors for fresh air and they make friends, too.”

The group is about more than just “oh look, how cute; they’re working out with their strollers,” McGrath said.

She said she turned to exercise after she suffered from severe post partum depression.

“Exercise was my way out of a tough time,” she said. “We work really hard. It’s exhausting. The benefit is we meet other mothers who understand what it’s like juggling a life with children.”

Nicole Harper, 28, who has a doctorate in biomechanical engineering, said the new friends she met through Stroller Strides supported her as she entered a new phase of life as a mother.

She was working in Austin on post doctorate research before she had Peyton Elizabeth, who is now three months old.

“I felt lost for a while after I stopped working,” she said. “I feel like I have found myself again with the new friends I made in the stroller exercise group.”

Expecting moms also find benefit in the group.

It helps them meet other moms and stay in shape.

Just last week, a pregnant mother was jogging and doing pushups up through Thursday and gave birth on Saturday.

“She plans to come back soon to exercise with her baby,” McGrath said.

Classes are offered at various parks and venues throughout Temple.

The more rigorous bootcamp-style routines are offered Tuesday and Thursday evenings and on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings,

The pace is slowed down a bit on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for Stroller Barre, a unique blend of ballet, Pilates, barre, yoga and stroller-based exercises designed to help moms build strength and muscle tone and improve posture.

Classes are offered on Saturdays as well.

If it rains, they often take their exercise inside to the Temple Mall.

“Of course, there’s an added benefit to that,” McGrath said. “When we walk we can shop, too.”

In addition to meeting for exercise, the group of moms also meets for play groups or social hour.

The group gets involved in community outreach, too. They held a bake sale to benefit the March of Dimes March for Babies.

Mom nights out are ways for mothers to socialize without their children.

Tosha Smith, 34, of Rogers, juggles caring for 3-year-old Quinn and working full time as an accounting clerk with the Bell County treasurer’s office in Belton.

“Exercise also gives us some ‘me’ time, which we need to be better mothers,” she said.

Veitenheimer hopes it also makes a lasting impression.

“Hopefully our children will grow up liking to exercise, too.”