The benefits of exercise are numerous and indisputable. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, reduces stress, increases energy, improves sleep, reduces the risk of several chronic illnesses … the list goes on.
Exercise During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, it’s important for you to be physically active. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) lists the following advantages of exercising while pregnant:
• Improved fitness and strengthening of your heart and blood vessels.
• Healthy weight gain during pregnancy and quicker weight loss after delivery.
• Reduced discomforts such as back pain and constipation.
• Possible decreased risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and the need for a C-section.
• Preparation for labor and delivery.
• Less risk of blood clots when you continue to exercise after the birth of your child.
At your first prenatal visit — and before beginning any fitness routine — ask your healthcare provider if it’s OK for you to exercise while pregnant. This visit is also an ideal time to establish an exercise routine appropriate for you — whether you’re a former Olympian or a couch potato looking to make a lifestyle change.
The good news is that if you are healthy and were active before your pregnancy, it is usually safe to continue those moves while pregnant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physical activity does not increase your chances of having a low-birth-weight baby, an early delivery or an early pregnancy loss.
Who Shouldn’t Exercise
ACOG advises that the following conditions may make it unsafe for you to exercise during pregnancy: particular heart and lung diseases; cervical insufficiency (the cervix starts to open too early in pregnancy) or cerclage (the opening is closed with stitches to try to prevent or delay a preterm birth); placenta prevue after 26 weeks of pregnancy (the placenta lies too low in the uterus, which can cause vaginal bleeding); preterm labor or ruptured membranes (if your water has broken); high blood pressure issues (e.g., preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced hypertension); and severe anemia (which causes fatigue and can increase the risk for falls).
Working It In
The CDC recommends that pregnant women get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. This can be divided in any way that best suits your particular schedule — typically, 30-minute workouts five days per week.
If you are just starting out, it’s a good idea to begin slowly, with five-minute workouts, and gradually increase your activity each week until you reach your goal. If you were already very active before pregnancy, you may resume your usual workouts with your provider’s approval. Keep in mind that you may need to increase the number of calories you take in, should you start to lose weight.
Keeping Fit Safely
Activities such as brisk walking, riding a stationary bicycle, modified yoga, modified Pilates, swimming and water workouts are generally considered safe for pregnant women. If you are an experienced runner, jogger or racquet-sports player, you may be able to continue these activities during pregnancy. Avoid activities that:
• May result in falls (e.g., off-road cycling, skiing, horseback riding, surfing). The additional weight in the front of your body changes your center of gravity. This affects your balance and increases your risk for falls.
• Involve contact, as you may get hit in the abdomen (e.g., ice hockey, basketball, boxing and soccer).
• Involve standing still or lying flat on your back for an extended period. When you are lying down, your uterus compresses the large vein that returns blood to the heart. During prolonged standing, blood can pool in your legs and feet. Both of these positions can decrease the return of blood to the heart and can result in fainting.
• Require heavy lifting or straining. Light weights may be OK.
• Are performed at high altitude (e.g., skydiving and mountain climbing).
• May cause overheating (e.g., hot yoga and saunas).
• Involve scuba diving.
Here are a few tips to help you stay safe while exercising:
1. Drink plenty of water.
2. Stay cool. Wear loose-fitting clothing, and exercise in a temperature-controlled room.
3. Later in pregnancy a belly support belt may reduce discomfort while working out.
4. Wear a well-supporting sports bra to protect your breasts.
5. Stop exercising and call your provider immediately if you begin to feel faint or dizzy, become short of breath, have chest pain, develop regular painful contractions, or experience leaking fluid or blood from the vagina.
For additional information: www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-During-Pregnancy.
Zalika Paul, MD, is a resident at the Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare Family Medicine Program, FL.