Exercise and Fitness During Pregnancy
Unless there are medical reasons to avoid it, pregnant women can and should try to exercise moderately for at least 30 minutes a day, 3-4 times a week. In the short term, exercise helps all of us feel better physically and emotionally, and the calories burned helps prevent excessive weight gain. People who exercise regularly develop stronger muscles, bones and joints. And over time, the benefits of regular exercise are even more impressive: lower risks of premature death, heart disease and other serious illnesses.
For pregnant women, however, exercise has added benefits. There is evidence that exercise can help prevent gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes that sometimes develops during pregnancy. And for women who already have gestational diabetes, regular exercise is recommended along with changes in diet to help bring the disease under control.
In addition, exercise can help relieve stress and build the stamina needed for labor and delivery. It's also worth mentioning that exercise can be very helpful in coping with the postpartum period. Exercise can help new mothers keep the "baby blues" at bay, cope with postpartum depression, regain their energy and lose the weight they gained during pregnancy.
Preparation and Starting Slow
It's best to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. You may have a medical condition that would make exercise harmful to you or your baby. If your doctor approves, you can start exercising at a level that does not cause pain, shortness of breath or excessive tiredness. You may then slowly increase your activity. If you feel uncomfortable, short of breath or very tired, you should reduce your exercise level. If you have already been exercising, it's easier to keep exercising during pregnancy. If you haven't exercised before, you need to start very slowly. Many women find that they need to slow down their level of exercise during pregnancy.
Choosing Your Exercise Routine
Being at risk of preterm labor or suffering from any kind of serious ailment (such as heart or lung diseases) means you need to check with your health care provider before you start an exercise program. Next, decide what type of exercise you will do in your routine. Be sure to pick exercise that you consider fun. For example, exercise balls are fun to plop around on and are great for correcting your posture and toning your trunk muscles. If it's fun, you won't get bored and that means you'll stick to your routine.
Do's and Don'ts of Exercise Routines
You may find that a variety of activities helps keep you motivated to continue exercising throughout your pregnancy and beyond. But remember, you need to be careful when choosing a sport.
Avoid any activities that put you at high risk for injury, such as horseback riding or downhill skiing. Similarly, pregnant women should also stay away from sports in which you could get hit in the abdomen, such as ice hockey, kickboxing or soccer. Especially after the third month, it is important to avoid exercises that require you to lie flat on your back, because this can restrict the flow of blood to the uterus, which could be dangerous for your baby.
Finally, pregnant women should never scuba dive, because this sport may result in the dangerous formation of gas bubbles in the baby's circulatory system.
Best Exercises for Pregnant Women
1. Aerobic Exercise: The most comfortable exercises are those that don't require your body to bear extra weight. Aerobic exercise involves rhythmic, repetitive activities that demand increased oxygen to the muscles. Aerobics include walking, jogging, bicycling, and swimming. This type of exercise stimulates the heart, lungs and muscles causing overall body changes. It allows your body to process and utilize oxygen and improves circulation. Your muscle tone and strength increases, which will help relieve backache, constipation and make you better able to cope with a lengthy labor. An added benefit to aerobic exercise is that it may help control blood sugar, lessen fatigue and promote good sleep.
The bottom line is that aerobic exercise will impart a feeling of well-being and confidence, while heightening your ability to cope with the physical and emotional challenges of childbearing. Try the following low impact aerobic exercises:
- Swimming or water workouts
- Stationary cycling like this one
- Walking or step machine
- Low-impact aerobics
2. Weight Training: Although weight training will increase your muscle tone, it is important to avoid heavy weights. This is because heavy weights often involve increasing pressure in your body and holding your breath, which may compromise blood flow to the uterus. If you feel the need to do weight training, be sure to use very light weights with multiple repetitions.
3. Yoga: The benefit of yoga is that it emphasizes breathing, relaxation, posture and body awareness, all of which make you better prepared to deal with the challenges of pregnancy and birth. You should make sure to choose a yoga program that is specifically designed for the pregnant woman, since some traditional positions are not appropriate and need to be modified. In addition to the psychological benefits of decreased tension and anxiety, yoga can build strength, increase endurance, improve posture and alignment, and reduce pregnancy aches and pains.
4. Pilates: Pilates is fast becoming the exercise of choice for pregnant women. It increases tone, strength and improves flexibility. As some Pilates moves are not recommended for pregnant women, be sure to join a prenatal Pilates class.
Warning Signs to Stop Exercising
Stop the activity and seek medical attention if any of the following symptoms occur during exercise:
- blood or fluid coming from your vagina
- sudden or severe abdominal or vaginal pain
- contractions that go on for 30 minutes after you stop exercising
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- headache that is severe or won't go away
- dim or blurry vision
Many busy moms and moms-to-be find it more convenient to exercise at home by using exercise videos or DVDs. These feature stretching, strength building, toning and aerobic routines ideal for pregnancy and recovery after birth.
Sure, staying fit wasn't that much of a challenge during your first trimester. But as you enter your second, your pregnancy discomfort increases as does your weight and this spells disaster for exercising during pregnancy. So what do you do to stay motivated? If you have tips or a funny tale to share with other pregnant women, then visit Pregnancy Stories and post your story!
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