Exercising During Pregnancy
Being pregnant isn’t easy. Morning sickness, lack of sleep, an uncomfortably changing body and frequent visits to the ladies’ room often make hitting the gym for a workout the last thing on your mind. However, did you know that exercise has big benefits for both you and your developing baby? It’s true! Research shows that a simple walk around the block or session of yoga can improve mood, sleep and even recovery time.
The first question on your mind, though, may be whether exercise is safe during pregnancy. In most cases, exercise is safe during pregnancy and even recommended. If you were physically active before you were pregnant, staying active during pregnancy is likely safe. Dawn Rattan, owner of EverFit, a gym in Shawnee, states, “It’s okay to work out throughout your entire pregnancy. Keep moving and you’ll have more energy, a better delivery and lifted spirits. Plus, you’ll have the added bonus of a faster ‘bounce-back’ to your pre-pregnancy body!”
If your doctor gives you the okay to exercise, go for it! You have so many wonderful reasons to keep moving, regardless of your uncomfortable, growing belly. Here are some of the benefits you can look forward to:
- Improved circulation. This, in turn, helps prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, leg cramps, varicose veins and swelling of the ankles.
- More energy to make it through the day. A strengthened cardiovascular system and stronger muscles help you accomplish more with less effort.
- A better night’s sleep. Regular exercise will tire you enough to put you into a deeper, more restful sleep.
- Improved mood. Exercising can lessen your mood swings, improve your self-image and allow you to feel a sense of control.
- Childbirth preparation and recovery. Some studies suggest that the fitness level of the mother can result in a shorter labor, fewer medical interventions, less exhaustion during labor and a speedier recovery.
- Better moods. Research has found that exercise during pregnancy reduces depression, releasing endorphins that help improve mood while diminishing stress and anxiety.
- Lower blood pressure. Walking regularly has been found to keep your blood pressure from rising.
- Less lower-back and pelvic pain. While the baby bump is putting pressure on these areas, exercise and yoga can be wonderful ways to ease the discomfort.
When beginning your exercise routine, be sure to keep it regular. Exercise at least three days a week rather than just occasionally. Remember, a simple 15-minute walk at lunchtime can suffice. Take note that your heart is working harder during pregnancy, and your lung capacity is also decreased, so you’ll have a tougher time catching your breath. You’ll know whether you’re working too hard if you can’t breathe normally. A little sweating and breathlessness is fine, but if you are constantly winded or your heart is pounding, ease up a bit. Don’t exercise to exhaustion. Rattan recommends asking the trainer for modifications as your pregnancy progresses.
After your first trimester, avoid exercise that requires lying flat on your back, such as crunches. This position can decrease blood flow to you and your baby. Also important is avoiding overheating when exercising during the first trimester, as it can be dangerous to the baby. The sauna and steam room are no-no’s.
So, what types of exercise are best during pregnancy? Here are some great ways to stay fit and reel in the benefits:
- Swimming: It’s one of the best exercises during pregnancy, as it’s easy on the joints and relieves swollen ankles.
- Yoga: It strengthens core muscles, eases back pain and helps you relax. Research shows it may even make your labor shorter and more comfortable. Try a prenatal class, which is gentler and focuses on relaxation.
- Indoor cycling: Cycling on a stationary bike is generally safe, even if you’re just starting an exercise program. It’s a great way to boost your heart rate without stressing your joints.
- Weight training: Light strength training can help you stay toned before and after delivery. Avoid heavy weights where you have to lie flat on your back.
- Brisk walking: This is an exercise you can do all the way up to delivery. Whether you’re on a trail or treadmill, walking can boost your mood and tone your muscles.
- Low-impact aerobics: Aerobics keep your heart and lungs strong, tone your entire body and give you a burst of endorphins (the feel-good brain chemical).
- Kegels: Kegels strengthen the muscles that help hold up the uterus, bladder and bowels, which helps during labor and delivery. These exercises are discreet, so you can do them anytime, anywhere, and no one will even know!
While pregnant, remember to modify your workout routine as needed. A 5-mile run may be out of the question when you’re six months pregnant, and that’s okay. If you’re in a class, be sure to let your instructor know you’re pregnant so he/she can help modify your exercise as needed.
Kansas City mom and author Gina Klein enjoyed the gentle stretching and relaxation of prenatal yoga during her two pregnancies, along with light weight-lifting and brisk walks.
As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.