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Exercising During Pregnancy

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Exercising During Pregnancy

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In this post, we’re going to take a look at all the things you need to consider when exercising during pregnancy. All women who are pregnant, without contraindications or complications, are encouraged to participate in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises as part of a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy. A reasonable aim should be to maintain a good fitness level throughout pregnancy without trying to reach peak fitness.

It is important to drink plenty of water, wear loose and non-restrictive clothing (such as a correctly fitted bra and appropriate footwear) and where possible, avoid excessive over-heating when exercising during pregnancy.

One benefit of exercising during pregnancy is improving your physical wellbeing and mental health.  Keeping a healthy weight will help to return to your pre-baby weight more quickly and reduces the risk of developing gestational diabetes.

However, as pregnancy advances, the body goes through considerable change, such as increased laxity (looseness) of joints, changes in centre of gravity and an elevated resting heart rate. Therefore adjustments to programs that you’re undertaking may need to be considered.

Women who are pregnant and participating in activities that require a high degree of balance or rapid changes in direction should consult with their doctor. Your doctor will assess you and determine your need to see a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist for a program that can be developed for you.

Pregnant women should aim to meet the prescribed physical activity level of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, or a combination of both. There has been no research to date which has identified a ‘safe’ upper-limit to exercise intensity.

The ‘talk test’ can be used to guide the intensity in which pregnant women are recommended to exercise. As the name suggests, the woman is exercising at a comfortable intensity if she is able to maintain a conversation during exercise. She should reduce the exercise intensity if this is not possible.

8 General Cautions to follow when you’re pregnant and exercising:

  • Avoid raising your body temperature too high – for example, avoid hot spas or exercise to the point of excessive sweating. Contain your level of exercise on hot or humid days to moderate.
  • Don’t exercise until you are exhausted.
  • Choose low weights and medium to high repetitions if weight training – avoid lifting heavy weights altogether.
  • If you are ill or feverish, do not exercise.
  • Don’t exercise on a day if you are not feeling like it. It is important to listen to your body to avoid unnecessarily depleting your energy reserves.
  • Keep the same level of intensity of your sporting program while you are pregnant, do not increase it, and always work at less than 75 per cent of your maximum heart rate.
  • Talk with your doctor or midwife before continuing or restarting your exercise program if you have an illness or complication.
  • Your doctor should be consulted if in doubt about anything.

During pregnancy, avoid sports and activities with increased risk of falling. These include the following 5 tips:

  • Contact sports or activities that carry a risk of falling.
  • Competition sports – depending on the stage of pregnancy, consider lessening the level of competition (consult your doctor or healthcare professional)
  • After about the fourth month of pregnancy, exercises that involve lying on your back – the weight of the baby can slow the return of blood to the heart. Try lying on your side to perform these exercises. In the later stages of pregnancy, activities that involve jumping, frequent changes of direction and excessive stretching (such as gymnastics).
  •  If you’re not sure whether a particular activity is safe during pregnancy, consult your healthcare professional.

Doing any physical activity is better than doing none, as long as it’s safe. If you are not currently involved in physical activity, start slowly, and build up to the recommended amount. Women who are active during pregnancy can continue with their regular exercise and/or sporting activity, but if you haven’t been exercising at all pre-pregnancy, then make sure you seek advice from a professional as to what level of exercise you should do.

Here is a list of recommended exercises to do during pregnancy which includes aerobic conditioning and strength training of all the major muscle groups and your pelvic floor.

Types of aerobic exercise include:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Cycling (on a stationary bike)
  • Low-impact aerobic exercise classes.
  • Exercise in water (aquaerobics)
  •  Pilates – tell your instructor that you are pregnant before the class
  • Pregnancy exercise classes.

Pelvic floor exercises are vital to include in your training regime:

  •  Sit and lean slightly forward with a straight back.
  • Press and raise the muscles as if you are trying to stop yourself ‘going to the bathroom’.
  • Hold the above position for up to five seconds and then relax for up to 10 seconds.
  • Repeat up to 10 times, three to four times per day.
  • Keep breathing through the exercise.

All exercise should consist of a warm-up and cool-down stage. Stretching exercises are helpful, performed gently due to the increased joint laxity during pregnancy.

Elite athletes who continue to train during pregnancy require supervision by an obstetric care provider with knowledge of the impact of strenuous exercise on maternal and foetal outcomes. Women with special needs may require a referral to a physiotherapist, exercise physiologist or sports medicine specialist to develop an appropriate exercise program. If you fit into that category then make sure you seek out an expert to get personalised and professional advice.