Pregnant? Congratulations! If you are curious about whether or not you’ll be able to exercise during pregnancy, there’s good news: research suggests that during pregnancy, women can continue to derive health benefits from regular exercise (at least three times per week).
What types of activity are beneficial and what precautions should you take? Catherine Logan, MSPT, a licensed physical therapist, Pilates instructor and personal trainer in Boston, offers general suggestions for how to exercise during pregnancy. Your doctor can answer any specific questions about what to keep in mind and what to avoid for your particular pregnancy.
Consistent exercise during pregnancy will help you as you prepare for childbirth and, later, as you return to prepregnancy activity levels. Benefits of exercise during pregnancy and after giving birth include the following:
- reduced incidence of back pain
- boosted energy
- fewer problems with constipation
- increased muscle strength and a superior cardiovascular condition, which can facilitate labor and delivery
- improved endurance, to prepare for the possibility of a longer labor
- improved mood states
- reduced postpartum recovery time
The appropriate mode of exercise for you depends to a great extent on how fit you were before your pregnancy. If you have not been exercising, begin slowly and progress gradually. Swimming and other types of aquatic exercise are preferred because they provide the benefit of buoyancy, taking weight off the joints and allowing you to feel more comfortable. Other possibilities include yoga and Pilates (geared to pregnant clients), walking, or exercise on cardiovascular machines. Performing a mix of cardiovascular, strength and flexibility exercises is an option. The “talk test” is useful for determining intensity. If you cannot hold a conversation while exercising, your intensity is too high.
If you have been strength training regularly prior to your pregnancy, you can continue but should reduce intensity and change positions when necessary; for example, by using the seated leg curl machine instead of performing a prone hamstring curl. In addition to the general exercise guidelines outlined in this article, you should
- always breathe through exercises;
- be cautious of rapid positional changes, including bending over quickly with the head below chest level, since these movements may cause dizziness; and
- aim for maintenance, not increasing muscle size.