Exercise During Pregnancy

What you Need to Know

Travis McDonald, Md, CSCS - Primary care sports medicine fellow

What are the Stats?

A recent study done by researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill found that less than 1 in 4 women get the recommended amount of exercise during pregnancy. This is due to perceived barriers among pregnant women ranging from lack of time to concern for their baby’s well being. Also, changes to the body during pregnancy can lead to discomforts and fatigue, which can impact a woman’s enthusiasm to engage in regular physical activity.

Myth or Fact?

In the past pregnant women were urged to cut down or even avoid exercise during pregnancy. This was in part due to limited knowledge at that time regarding pregnancy and the justified concern for the safety of both mother and baby. The residue of these concerns emerge today as myths and include:

  • If I never exercised before pregnancy now is not the time to start
  • I should not participate in any athletic events during pregnancy
  • Increased body temperature associated with regular exercise will harm my baby
  • Exercising during pregnancy will pull nutrients from my baby
  • Running is unsafe for my baby
  • I have to keep my heart rate below 140 beats per minute during exercise
  • I should cut back my exercise in the last trimester
  • I should not work my abs during pregnancy
  • I should not do any resistance training during pregnancy

Why Should I Be Physically Active?

There are many reasons to be physically active in general, as well as during pregnancy. Some of the benefits during pregnancy include:

  • To maintain or improve fitness level
  • To prevent excessive weight gain
  • To prevent or reduce symptoms of low back pain
  • To reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia
  • To Improve sleep and energy level

How Much Should I be Exercising?

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends women with uncomplicated pregnancies get 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercise on most days.

When is the Best Time to Start Exercising?

The best time to start is yesterday. The next best time is TODAY! It is safe to start exercising at anytime during pregnancy if ok’d by your health care provider.

How Do I Start Exercising and What Types of Activities Should I Do?

Start Small and Simple

Gradually work in to an exercise routine. You don’t necessarily need to join a gym or buy a set of expensive work out clothes to be physically active. If you are already physically active it is safe to continue your current regiment unless directed otherwise by your health care provider.

Add Variety

Find activities that you enjoy and that fit in to your schedule. Most types of aerobic and resistive exercises can be done during pregnancy, including: walking, aerobics, yoga, dance, cycling, swimming, jogging, etc. Strength training, flexibility and core strengthening can also be done.

Be Creative

Try some free fitness classes available in the community. Try walking around your neighborhood. Try exercising during your lunch hour. Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Try going for a scenic hike.

What Activities Should I Avoid

Check with your health care provider if you are not sure if a particular activity is safe during pregnancy. Some high-risk activities include:

  • Contact sports
  • Fall risk sports (gymnastics, rock climbing, water skiing, etc.)
  • Scuba diving
  • High altitudes >6000 ft.
  • Activities after the first trimester that forces you to lie flat on your back

Pregnancy Exercising

What Concerning Symptoms Should I Watch Out for While Exercising?

Stop exercising and contact your health care provider if you have:

Dizziness, headache, increased shortness of breath, chest pain, vaginal bleeding or leaking fluid, calf cramping or swelling, irregular heartbeat, uterine contractions that continue after rest, decreased fetal movement.

Once I Start Exercising How do I Stay Motivated?

Find a Partner. Exercising can be more enjoyable if you have someone to talk with and pass the time.

Reward yourself

It is always nice to have something to look forward to after all your work and effort. Treat yourself to a movie, a favorite treat or a massage.

Take a break

Don’t overdue it. Give yourself a rest when you need it. If you feel burned out take a break and change things up.

What Should I Take Home from this Article?

Keeping active is important and most activities are considered safe during pregnancy. Always combine exercise with a healthy diet and proper hydration. It is critical to involve your health care provider in your plan to be active as they can offer personalized recommendations. Be aware of the perceived barriers that prevent you from exercising regularly. Develop a realistic plan and find physical activities that you enjoy. Don’t become discouraged if you are not as consistent as you would like to be. If regular physical activity is not currently a part of your life than use your pregnancy as motivation to begin and get in the routine.

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