Exercising during pregnancy has its advantages. Studies have shown that expectant moms who exercise have less weight gain, fewer medical complications and decreased musculoskeletal pain during pregnancy — as well as healthier babies and a faster return to prepregnancy weight after delivery, among other benefits.
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, and this goal does not change with pregnancy. Thirty minutes of exercise five days a week is a reasonable way to divide up the recommended activity.
Many women can continue to do their prepregnancy workouts. First and foremost, check with your healthcare provider prior to exercising to ensure that you don’t have any medical issues that would impact your ability to do so. If you are new to exercise — or feel like you need a change — try some of the following activities, which are generally safe for most women with uncomplicated pregnancies.
YOGA: Many studios offer prenatal yoga classes, which are designed to avoid positions that may not be comfortable or safe for expectant mothers, as well as strengthen muscles that will help with labor and delivery. Regular stretching can help with musculoskeletal pain and increase flexibility.
SWIMMING: This is a great total-body workout. You can increase your cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and endurance — all while feeling weightless. This is especially helpful for women who are experiencing back, hip and leg pain.
WALKING: Varying your speed or incline can make this basic exercise more vigorous. It is a great activity to do with friends or family. If the weather is less than ideal for a long walk outdoors, try moving indoors to a mall or even to an airport.
DANCING/AEROBICS: Dancing and low-impact aerobics are fun ways to get your heart pumping. Be aware that as you get closer to your due date, your center of gravity will change and your balance may be affected. Your risk of falling may increase, so be careful when busting a move.
CARDIO MACHINES: Equipment such as stationary bikes, elliptical machines and stair climbers can provide great low-impact cardiovascular fitness and build muscle strength. They are easy to modify, so that you can continue to exercise throughout your pregnancy.
WEIGHT TRAINING: Expectant moms who are already lifting weights regularly can continue most weight-training exercises. Many gyms will offer one free introductory session with a personal trainer who can provide some safe, effective exercises to build muscular strength. If you are new to lifting weights, try starting with 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, the last few of which should be difficult. Increase your weight slowly as the final reps become easier.
EXERCISE DVDS: If your access to a gym (or the funds to pay for a membership) is limited, there are plenty of enjoyable options for home workouts. Search online for DVDS that you can purchase or shows that you can download. From yoga to cardio, prenatal workouts are easy to find. The next time you are watching TV, think about moving aside the coffee table and working out your whole body, not just your channel-changing finger!
No matter how you choose to get moving, always follow these guidelines:
1. Let your body be your guide. If something doesn’t feel right, either stop or modify the activity.
2. Stay hydrated.
3. Dress appropriately for the temperature and intensity of the activity — layers are great.
4. If you would be unable to carry on a conversation while you are exercising, slow down or stop. Your oxygenation status affects your baby.
If you find it difficult to maintain the motivation to exercise during pregnancy, try to enlist a friend or family member to join you. Holding each other accountable for following through with plans to go to the gym, to a class or for a walk is a great way to ensure that you reach your exercise goals.
So get up, get out and start moving!
There are plenty of safe exercises you can do throughout every trimester. Your body — and your baby — can only benefit.
Lynsey Caldwell Owen, MD, FACOG, is an ob/gyn at Arlington Women’s Center and Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, VA.