6. Exercise during Pregnancy?

Exercise is important to many pregnant women. In fact, studies show more than 60% of all pregnant women exercise. However, statistics also show that only 15% of pregnant women engage in 30 minutes of moderate exercise five or more times a week.

The aim of exercise during pregnancy is to stay fit. Women who are physically fit are better able to perform the hard work of labor and delivery.

You can benefit from exercise. Exercise can relieve back pain, increase stamina and muscle strength, and improve circulation and flexibility. You may also have less nausea and constipation; you may sleep better, feel less tired and improve your posture.

Exercise can help protect you from illness. Regular exercise may help decrease your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, depression and obesity. Exercising may also help reduce your chances of having some pregnancy problems. Most pregnant women are advised to exercise moderately for 30 minutes every day.

Research shows healthy women who exercised during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy reduced their risk of developing pre-eclampsia by as much as 35%. It’s believed exercise may increase growth of the placenta while reducing stress and blood pressure in you.

Exercise may help you control your weight during pregnancy, and you may have an easier time losing weight after pregnancy. You might even return to your prepregnancy shape faster. Research shows if you exercise during pregnancy, your baby may have a healthier start in life.

Exercise during pregnancy is not without some risk, however, so listen to your body. Risks include increased body temperature, decreased blood flow to the uterus and possible injury to the mother’s abdominal area.

There are many types of exercise to choose from; each offers its own advantages. Aerobic exercise is very popular with women who want to stay in shape. Muscle-building exercises are also a popular way to tone muscles and to increase strength. Many women combine the two. Good exercise choices for pregnant women include brisk walking, stationary bicycling, swimming and aerobic exercise designed especially for pregnant women.

Aerobic Exercise. For cardiovascular fitness, aerobic exercise is the best. You must exercise 3 to 5 times a week at a sustained heart rate of 110 to 120 beats a minute, maintained for at least 15 continuous minutes. (The rate of 110 to 120 beats a minute is an approximate target for people of different ages.) Doing low-impact aerobics for at least 2 hours a week may help reduce your risk of pregnancy problems.

Tip for Week 3

Before you begin any exercise program, discuss it with your healthcare provider. Together you can develop a program that takes into account your level of conditioning and your exercise habits.

If you exercised aerobically before pregnancy, you can probably continue aerobic exercise but at a lower rate to avoid problems. Now is not the time to try to set new records or to train for an upcoming marathon. If you have any questions, talk them over with your healthcare provider at your first prenatal visit.

Don’t start a strenuous aerobic exercise program or increase training during pregnancy. If you haven’t been involved in regular, strenuous exercise before pregnancy, walking and swimming are probably about as involved as you should get with exercise.

There are some precautions to take if you exercise. Don’t let your body temperature rise above 102F (38.9C). Aerobic exercise and/or dehydration can raise your body temperature higher than this, so be careful. Keep workouts short, especially during hot weather.

We used to recommend a pregnant woman keep her heart rate under 140bpm during exercise. However, today ACOG’s recommendation is for a pregnant woman to exercise 30 minutes a day, without a specific heart-rate limit.

If you feel tired, don’t skip a workout! Instead, decrease how hard you exercise or for how long. Sometimes stretching may be all you’re up for. Try to stretch at least a couple of times a week. Stretching may lower stress levels and help calm you.

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Muscle Strength. Some women exercise for muscle strength. To strengthen a muscle, there has to be resistance against it. There are three different kinds of muscle contractions—isotonic, isometric and isokinetic. Isotonic exercise involves shortening the muscle as tension is developed, such as when you lift a weight. Isometric exercise causes the muscle to develop tension but doesn’t change its length, such as when you push against a stationary wall. Isokinetic exercise occurs when the muscle moves at a constant speed, such as when you swim.

Cardiac and bone muscles cannot usually be strengthened at the same time. Strengthening bone muscles requires lifting heavy weights, but you can’t lift these heavy weights long enough to strengthen your heart.

If you’re doing free weights, sit down when you can. Wear some type of tummy support. In your third trimester, don’t lift more than 15 pounds of weight. Instead, increase the number of reps.

Weightbearing exercise is the most effective way of increasing bone density to help avoid osteoporosis. Other advantages of strengthening exercises include flexibility, coordination and improvement in mood and alertness. Stretching and warming up muscles before exercising and cooling down after exercising help you improve flexibility and avoid injury.

Other Types of Exercise. There are other types of exercise you might enjoy. A balance ball may be a good choice. Exercising on a big exercise ball is easier on your back, and it strengthens core muscles. Some women use them during labor to help relieve pain!

Pregnancy yoga or Pilates classes may be good choices during your first trimester. Ten minutes of yoga or Pilates increases your blood flow and stretches your muscles.

Try water aerobics to help relieve back and pelvic pain. Even doing it only once a week may help reduce pain.

General Exercise Guidelines. Before beginning any exercise program, consult your healthcare provider. If you get the go-ahead, begin exercising gradually. Start with 15-minute workout sessions, with 5-minute rest periods in between.

Check your heart rate every 15 minutes. Count the number of heartbeats by feeling the pulse in your neck or wrist for 15 seconds. Multiply by 4. If your pulse is too high, rest until your pulse drops below 90 bpm.

Allow enough time to warm up and to cool down. Break workouts into smaller increments to fit them into your day. Four 10-minute walks may be easier to accomplish than one 40-minute walk.

Wear comfortable clothing during exercise, including clothing that is warm enough or cool enough, and good, comfortable athletic shoes with maximum support. Drink water before, during and after exercising. Dehydration may cause contractions.

Dad Tip

Your partner will be experiencing a lot during these next 9 months. She will experience many physical changes. A pregnant woman may have morning sickness, heartburn, indigestion, fatigue and other common discomforts. Occasionally, something serious occurs. It’s helpful to know what changes you may be faced with.

You may feel better if you can remember to contract your abdomen and buttocks to help support your lower back. Never hold your breath while you exercise, and don’t get overheated. Step-up the number of calories you eat.

When you’re pregnant, be careful about getting up and lying down. After 16 weeks of pregnancy, don’t lie on your back while exercising. This can decrease blood flow to the uterus and placenta. When you finish exercising, lie on your left side for 15 to 20 minutes.

Avoid risky sports, such as horseback riding or water skiing. Spinning—a high-intensity stationary cycling workout—may not be recommended during pregnancy because it may cause dehydration and a rapid heart rate. If you are an experienced spinner, talk to your healthcare provider about it at a prenatal visit.

Possible Problems. Stop exercising and consult your healthcare provider if you experience bleeding or loss of fluid from the vagina while exercising, shortness of breath, dizziness, severe abdominal pain or any other pain or discomfort. Consult your healthcare provider, and exercise only under his or her supervision, if you experience (or know you have) an irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, anemia or any other chronic medical problem. Talk to your healthcare provider about exercise if you have a history of three or more miscarriages, an incompetent cervix, intrauterine-growth restriction (IUGR), premature labor or any abnormal bleeding during pregnancy.

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