One of the commonest questions asked is “Can I exercise during my pregnancy?”
Often women are led to believe that exercising during pregnancy will do more harm than good to their unborn baby. Pregnancy however is not an illness; your body still requires regular exercise to be healthy. Your body also still has the physical ability to do this, so this should not get in the way of you being able to enjoy sport or a fitness activity.
The aim of exercise during pregnancy is to maintain a good fitness level. You shouldn’t be reaching your peak fitness nor should you be training for a serious athletic competition. However engaging in regular physical activity will make your pregnancy more enjoyable.
What are the benefits of exercising whilst I’m pregnant?
1. Maternal fitness
- Your body will be in a healthier state to cope with the physiological changes that occur in your body during pregnancy, such as increased blood volume.
- Helps you handle the physical challenges of labour well, especially during the pushing stage.
- Contributes to helping reduce the amount of medical intervention for scenarios whereby assisted delivery is needed due to maternal exhaustion
- Helps maintain a healthy weight throughout pregnancy and prevents excessive weight gain.
3. Gestational Diabetes
- Improves insulin sensitivity and glucose utilization within the body, helping to keep blood sugar levels normal.
- Helps to prevent the development of Gestational Diabetes.
4. Symptoms of pregnancy
- Relieves tiredness.
- Strengthens your abdominal muscles and core body strength will make it easier for you to carry the weight you gain and reduce lower back pain.
- Reduces swelling in your lower limbs and prevents the development of varicose veins.
- Keeps the bowels regular and helps avoid constipation and bloating.
5. Mental health
- Stabilises moods especially in the pregnancy and post-birth period where are more susceptible to mood swings.
- Helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
- Reduces risk of developing Postnatal Depression.
What types of exercise are recommended?
Activities you are encouraged to engage in include either aerobic or strength conditioning activities. Aerobic activities will improve your cardiac fitness and involves activities such as swimming, running, fast walking and aerobics. Strength exercises on other hand increase overall fitness, strength and flexibility, and involve slow controlled movements such as weight bearing and pilates. Activities that place you at risk of contact injury such as netball or touch football, or those associated with a high risk of falling such as skiing or horse riding are discouraged.
Incidental exercise also counts too. Although it provides less benefits to your overall fitness levels, it will still contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Examples are using the stairs instead of the lift, parking your car an extra block away from then shops, getting off public transport one stop earlier and walking longer home, and being active around then house.
What else should I remember when exercising?
1. Intensity of exercise
- The intensity of exercise will depend on your level of fitness prior to falling pregnant. As a general rule you should only be pushing yourself to a limit where you can still hold a normal conversation with someone without being short of breath.
- The following table provides targets for your heart rate:
- It is essential that you adequately warm up and cool down each time you exercise to prevent injury to your muscles.
- Strong good shoes are recommended to avoid tendency for ankle injury, as well as slipping over on surfaces.
- A well supportive bra is also recommended.
- Avoid overheating or exercising in very hot or humid climates.
- This applies especially in the first trimester where if your body temperature rises above 39° this can affect your baby’s development.
- If exercising in the water such as aqua-natal classes the temperature should not exceed 32° degrees.
4. Blood pressure
- Avoid activities that involve lying flat on your back, especially after 16weeks.
- This is because when you lie flat on your back your growing uterus compresses some of your main blood vessels, resulting in less blood returning to heart and a drop in blood pressure.
- If you do your blood pressure drops and you may feel light headed or faint.
5. Blood sugar
- Your sugar levels are important part of providing enough energy to exercise and ongoing supply for your growing baby.
- Make sure you eat prior to exercise and don’t exercise for longer than 45 minutes, to avoid your sugar level dropping too low.
The recommendations for exercise during pregnancy will vary between women, depending on your pre-pregnancy fitness levels and weight. However the aim is for at least 30 minutes of low intensity exercise, four times a week. So get out there and enjoy this beautiful weather!