If you have been told that a woman “in your condition” should not exercise, you have been misinformed! It is important that women exercise especially when they are pregnant. Why? It helps keep muscles strong, which makes labor and delivery easier. That is reason enough to get moving, but there are many more. You’ll boost your energy, sleep better, reduce stress, and prevent excess weight gain; it even helps your body “bounce” back after the baby is born. There is no doubt that exercise is great for pregnant women; but there are some guidelines to consider, especially as your pregnancy progresses.
Here are some tips for safety and health:
Get the go-ahead from your doctor. It may not be safe for those with asthma, diabetes, bleeding or spotting, threatened miscarriage, weak cervix, or low placenta to exercise. Your doctor will be able to tell you if exercise is right for your body and baby. In general, though, most women can – and should – exercise.
Get into a pregnancy fitness routine. If you work out regularly, continue to do so. If you were doing high-impact activities, switch to low-impact. If you were not exercising before, start gently. Some great choices include:
- Stationary cycling. Outdoor cycling, where balance is a must, may not be advisable, especially for beginners.
- Elliptical machine workouts.
- Dancing. Don’t do leaps, jumps, or twirls – and keep away from the high heels. In general, though, dance is wonderful because you can modify it for your own pace, energy level, and pregnancy stage.
- Low impact aerobics. Again, there are classes and videos that can show you safe moves to get in shape.
- Kegals. These are much more targeted! Kegal exercises strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor. Simply contract and release. Start with 10 and work your way up. This will strengthen the muscles in preparation for childbirth, and they will help you avoid bladder leaks and hemorrhoids.
There are some exercises you will want to avoid while pregnant:
- Specific yoga poses or Pilates movements. Not to worry, though; you can find classes or videos made for pregnant women. Certain moves have been modified to accommodate for your special needs – and growing belly.
- Downhill skiing or snowboarding. Switch to snowshoeing or cross-country to get out in the winter.
- Horseback riding (because of the risk of a fall).
- Any contact sport or any activity in which a fall to the abdomen could result.
There are also some “maybes,” like running or jogging. If you are a runner already, continue in moderation. You will not be able to go as fast, or as far, as you used to. That’s ok. You’ll get back there; but for now, it’s time to play it safe. If you want to commit yourself to staying fit after your pregnancy, instead of the usual mommy gifts, ask for hand weights, yoga DVD's, or a medicine ball! These will all help in the long run.
Here are some general “rules” for exercise during pregnancy:
- Do not let your heart rate get over 140. Invest in a good heart monitor and pay attention. When your heart beats faster than that, it reduces blood flow to the baby, which can be dangerous.
- Don’t do anything jarring to the belly, including full sit-ups, twisting, rotations, and other similar movements.
- Wear comfortable clothes and lace up. You don’t want to risk falling or tripping.
- Pace yourself. If you cannot talk normally, you are doing too much.
- Stay hydrated.
- If you feel dizzy, do not continue. Rest, drink water, and keep your head up. If you can, eat a protein snack. If dizziness occurs each time you exercise, talk to your doctor.
- Know when to stop. If you feel pains in your chest or abdomen, experience muscle weakness, notice your heart rate is too high or irregular, experience vaginal bleeding or fluid leakage, or notice a sudden swelling of hands and/or feet, stop exercising. Talk to your doctor about these problems (and in the case of sustained shortness of breath, dizziness, or pain, call right away).
- Avoid exercises that require you to lie on your back for extended periods of time.
Just as you are eating for two, you are exercising for two. Appropriate, safe physical activity is wonderful for your health and well-being, and it also strengthens the baby. Researchers found that when a mom exercises, the baby’s heart was stronger. What a great baby gift from you to your child! Moms put their baby’s health before their own; all the more reason to exercise!