Gym Babes: Pregnancy and Exercise
How to stay active with baby on board
Anne Stein, M.S. Sports & Fitness Journalist/Author
You may not go as far or as fast, but exercising during pregnancy – with clearance from your health care provider – clearly benefits a woman’s overall health. “This isn’t a time to take nine months off from your exercise routine,” says Dr. James Pivarnik, a leading expert in exercise and pregnancy, and Director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health at Michigan State University.
For women who’ve never exercised or haven’t stepped foot in a gym in a while, pregnancy is a great opportunity to pay serious attention to your health with a new training program. “Exercise may prevent gestational diabetes and pregnancy-induced hypertension,” says Pivarnik, who also serves a president of the American College of Sports Medicine. “Women who exercise during pregnancy don’t gain as much weight, and post-partum weight loss is enhanced.” In addition, exercise can help your mood, energy and posture, as well as enhance sleep.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I DO?
Healthy women who aren’t already physically active should strive to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week during pregnancy and the postpartum period. For non-exercisers with a normal pregnancy who don’t have additional high risk factors, a walking program or gentle water exercise class is a great way to start. Women who engage in regular vigorous, high-intensity activity and/or strength training should continue to be physically active during pregnancy, though they should dial down the intensity. Physically active pregnant women generally do not need to drastically reduce their activity levels, provided that they remain healthy and discuss with their health care provider how to adjust activity levels during this time. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), women at risk for pre-term labor, vaginal bleeding, or premature rupture of membranes are advised not to exercise during pregnancy.
HOW HARD SHOULD I GO?
Like any new exerciser, pregnant women who haven’t been exercising should start with a gentle program and slowly increase intensity and duration week by week. ACOG advises new exercisers to start with five minutes a day and add five minutes a week until they reach 30 minutes a day. Experienced exercisers should go at a moderate pace. Use the talk test; if you can talk comfortably while exercising, you’re exercising at the right pace. If you’re gasping for breath and can only spit out a few words, you’re pushing too hard. In the past, pregnant women were advised not to let their heart rate rise above 140 beats per minute. That’s no longer the rule. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced athlete, don’t exercise to exhaustion, advises ACOG, and if you experience any of the following symptoms while exercising, stop and consult your physician:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Dizziness/feeling faint
- Increased shortness of breath
- Chest Pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Uterine contractions
- Decreased fetal movement
- Fluid leaking from vagina
WHAT SPORTS CAN I DO?
Pregnancy involves weight gain and a changing center of gravity which can affect your balance and posture. Hormones during pregnancy will loosen the joints and tendons so they will be less supportive than usual. You’ll fatigue more quickly. These factors and more may make your usual exercise routine uncomfortable. If you previously cycled or ran, you may be able to continue, though you may have to modify your routine. Consult your physician. ACOG advises that you may want to avoid racquet sports that demand quick movements because your changing center of gravity and balance can increase your risk of falling. Avoid sports where you risk falling or being hit. These include downhill skiing, soccer, softball, horseback riding, water skiing, basketball, and other activities where contact could harm you and/or your baby. Underwater pressure from scuba diving is also too risky for your baby’s health.
OTHER DO’S AND DONT’S
- Don’t exercise on your back after the first trimester
- Avoid exercising in hot/humid conditions and wear clothing that will keep you cool
- To avoid overheating and dehydration, make sure you hydrate properly and have a fan nearby to cool you down
- Consume enough calories to fuel you, your baby and your exercise efforts