Exercise in all stages of life improves heart health, fitness, and longevity. It can also be beneficial in reducing pain, managing depression and anxiety, and improving your focus. During pregnancy it has the added benefits of speeding up postpartum recovery, promoting a higher likelihood of vaginal delivery as well as a reduction in other pregnancy and birth-related complications. Sound good?!
Here are some guidelines to help you incorporate exercise safely during your pregnancy.
- In an uncomplicated pregnancy, experts recommend striving for 30-60 minutes of exercise three to seven days per week.
- Work at a moderate intensity combining a mixture of aerobic and resistance training.
- If you were active in vigorous activity prior to pregnancy, then a higher intensity can be maintained throughout pregnancy.
- If you were not active prior to pregnancy, you’ll want to build up slowly to this amount of exercise.
- Always talk to your OBGYN or Midwife regarding your plans so they can help guide you and let you know if any restrictions are needed.
Regulating your body’s energy and temperature is more challenging while pregnant. These guidelines will help:
- Stay well hydrated.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing.
- Avoid high heat and humidity to protect against heat stress.
- Keep bouts of exercise to under 30 minutes in situations where temperature regulation is challenging (ie. hot humid days or vigorous exercise).
- Use the “Talk Test” to monitor exertion. If you can have a conversation while exercising, you are likely not overexerting yourself.
- Have adequate, healthy food intake prior to exercise to avoid low blood sugar.
- Do self-paced exercises, so you can rest as needed and self-monitor to keep your temperature & hydration controlled and pay attention to whether you need to stop.
- Continue to breathe. Don’t hold your breath or strain to accomplish a task.
Aerobic workouts include activities that get your heart rate up, like swimming, walking, cycling, dancing, and hiking. I recommend choosing an activity that you’ve done before and felt comfortable with. If you’ve never run before, you don’t need to start running while pregnant. Walking would be a better choice. Do something that feels good. If walking causes discomfort, perhaps swimming will feel better. It is important to make sure that what you are choosing is safe in that it does not pose a fall risk. If you don’t feel steady on a bike (as it is common for balance to be affected during pregnancy), you can try a stationary bike. There are many different activities and variations to get your heart pumping!
Resistance training involves weights or everyday objects that can be lifted, pushed, or pulled as well as bodyweight exercises geared towards strengthening. You can use everyday objects as weights such as water bottles, water jugs, bags. Building strength is beneficial for your everyday health and will also prove to be very useful when it comes time to be lifting your baby, car seat, stroller, etc.! If you aren’t familiar with weight training, find a coach or physical therapist who can help.
There are also many group classes that you can join. Prenatal yoga is a great way to combine strength training, flexibility, and aerobic activity. Many group classes as well as one-on-one training and physical therapy are available online now so now you can confidently stay active from the comfort and safety of your own home!
If any exercise you select causes discomfort, pain, leaking a sense of heaviness or dragging in the pelvic region or a straining/ bulging in the abdominal muscles, then it is time to ease up a little bit. These sensations commonly occur in pregnancy, but are not normal and you shouldn’t push through it. I’d recommend talking to your OBGYN or Midwife and a physical therapist if they occur so they can help you modify your movements and stay active!
If any of the following very rare symptoms occur during exertion, stop and immediately call your doctor: vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain, regular painful contractions, amniotic fluid leakage, shortness of breath before exertion, dizziness, headache, chests pain, muscle weakness affecting balance, calf pain or swelling. These are very rare but urgent.
Recommendations are taken from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.