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Exercise During Pregnancy

Exercise during pregnancy helps keep you in shape and relieve basic pregnancy discomforts.
Exercise during pregnancy helps keep you in shape and relieve basic pregnancy discomforts.
Getty Images/Jupiterimages/Bananastock/Thinkstock

During pregnancy, exercise helps your body in two ways: It keeps your heart strong and your muscles in shape, and it relieves the basic discomforts of pregnancy — from morning sickness to constipation to achy legs and backs. Studies show that the earlier in pregnancy a woman gets regular exercise, the more comfortable she is likely to feel throughout the nine months. Some evidence shows that regular exercise makes for shorter labor, too.

No matter what your particular exercise regimen may be, keep in mind the basic rules for working out during pregnancy. The following is a list of things to consider when keeping up activities as your baby grows larger and larger.

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If you have a moderate exercise routine, keep it up. If you've been pretty sedentary, don't suddenly plunge into a strenuous program; ease in slowly. Keeping up a regular schedule of moderate activity is better than engaging in infrequent spurts of intense exercise.

  • Avoid overheating, especially during the first six weeks of pregnancy.
  • Avoid exercising flat on your back for long periods of time; doing so may reduce blood flow to your heart.
  • Try not to beat yourself up if you find that pregnancy makes it harder to continue the workout routine you're accustomed to. Modify your program according to what you can reasonably tolerate. Listen to your body. If weight-lifting suddenly hurts your back, lighten up. You may find it easier to perform nonweight-bearing exercises like swimming or bicycling.
  • Watch how your center of gravity shifts. You probably should avoid surfing, horseback riding, skiing, or any other sport that can cause injury if you're out of balance. Also avoid anything that puts you at risk of being hurt in the abdomen, and high-impact, bouncy exercises that can tax your loosening joints.
  • Carry a bottle of water to every exercise session and stay well hydrated.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet that includes an adequate supply of carbohydrates.
  • Talk to your practitioner about what your peak exercise heart rate should be. (Many practitioners suggest 140 beats per minute as the upper limit.) Then regularly measure your heart rate at the peak of your workout to make sure that it's at a safe level.

Stop exercising — and talk to your doctor — if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath out of proportion to the exercise you are doing
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Rapid heartbeat (that is, more than 140 beats per minute)
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Any significant pain
  • Types of exercising to consider while pregnant

See the next page for more specific information on how pregnancy affects common types of exercises.

Here's a more specific look at how pregnancy affects the most common kinds of exercise:

  • Aerobics: Like running, high-intensity aerobics are not for pregnant beginners. Take a class designed for pregnant women, or take a regular class and modify the workout according to your abilities and limitations. Your instructor should be able to help; make sure that he or she knows you're pregnant. Avoid exercises that require you to lie flat on your back or overstretch your joints. Throughout the nine months, low- or moderate-impact workouts make more sense than high-impact ones. During the third trimester, you may have difficulty keeping your balance all the way through an aerobics class or tape.
  • Bicycling: Bike riding is nonweight-bearing — the bicycle supports your weight — and that makes it good for pregnant women. Still, biking entails some risks. As your center of gravity shifts, you may be more likely to fall. Your heavier abdomen can also put stress on your back as you lean toward the handlebars. Stationary bicycles are ideal because they pose very little risk of falling. In fact, stationary bike riding is an exercise that even the most sedentary woman can begin after she gets pregnant, because she can start slowly and gradually increase riding time as she gets in better shape.
  • Downhill skiing, water skiing, horseback riding: All of these activities put you at risk of falling with significant impact, which could injure you or your baby. While they may be fine early in pregnancy, talk to your doctor before doing any of these sports in your second or third trimester. Cross-country skiing is less risky, especially if you're experienced.
  • Golf and bowling: They're perfectly okay, but be careful not to overextend or overheat.
  • Running/jogging: If you're a runner, you can keep on running. Competitive runners often maintain their training during pregnancy. But if you haven't been running for a while, starting up during pregnancy doesn't make sense. You put yourself at risk of musculoskeletal injuries — knee and hip problems and the like — especially after the body's center of gravity shifts significantly in the third trimester. Better to try brisk walking, 30 to 60 minutes a day, which can also raise your heart rate to fitness range. Many runners find that later in pregnancy, fatigue keeps them from going their usual distance.
  • Overheating: Try not to overheat or become dehydrated, and if you feel fatigued, dizzy, faint, or nauseous, by all means stop. On very hot or humid days, don't exercise outdoors.
  • Stair-climbing machines: Stair climbing is weight-bearing, but most machines help lighten the load so that it isn't as weight-bearing as aerobics or running. And the stationary machines pose little risk of falling. As your stomach grows, you put more stress on your back muscles. But all things considered, stair climbing is an excellent form of exercise for pregnant women, especially if the room you're in gets plenty of fresh air.
  • Stretching and body sculpting: These are fine as long as you don't do them flat on your back or overextend. You don't get any cardiac benefit, but stretching does help you maintain muscle tone and flexibility, which can come in handy during labor and delivery. Kegel exercises, which involve targeting and contracting the muscles of the pelvic floor (around the opening of your bladder and vagina), may not help so much during pregnancy. But afterward, they can make it easier for your pelvic muscles to return to normal, and they may prevent problems with urinary incontinence later in life.
  • Swimming: If you swam before you got pregnant, keep swimming now. In fact, swimming is one of the best exercises a pregnant woman can do because it puts no stress on your joints and poses little risk of overheating or losing your balance and falling. However, most doctors advise that you avoid scuba diving because the dramatic pressure changes could have adverse effects on the baby.
  • Yoga: Most forms of yoga are fine during pregnancy and may even relieve some of your stress. Many yoga teachers offer special pregnancy classes, but regular classes are also fine. Just avoid lying flat on your back or overstretching.

Excerpted from Pregnancy For Dummies™, published by John Wiley & Sons.

For more information on "Pregnancy For Dummies®", or other books, visit Dummies.com.

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