A growing body of research indicates that exercise benefits pregnant women. Working out can help you stay fit and prepare your body for labor and delivery. It’s also a good way to prevent high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, weight gain, and pregnancy complications. Yet, many moms-to-be are afraid to exercise. Only 23 percent of them hit the gym regularly. Let’s find out why you should work out while pregnant and how to do it safely:
The Surprising Benefits of Exercise for Future Moms
Health experts recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise during pregnancy. Future moms who exercise have lower rates of hypertension, diabetes, and depression. They also recover faster from childbirth and report less pain during labor. Ideally, their workout should include a mix of strength training and moderate aerobic activity.
Studies have found that pregnancy exercise benefits both the mom and her baby. It not only makes it easier to control your weight, but also eases back pain, increases muscle tone, and promotes good sleep. Working out will boost your energy and stamina, prevent constipation, and lower inflammation. It also improves your mood and regulates hormone levels. Other benefits include:
• Improved self-image
• Stress relief
• Easier labor
• Reduced risk of preeclampsia, leg cramps, and varicose veins
• Improved cardiovascular health
• Faster return to pre-pregnancy weight
• Increased flexibility and range of motion
• Improved blood flow
• Reduced swelling
Most women report low energy and fatigue during pregnancy. Exercise increases your energy levels, allowing you to accomplish tasks with less effort. It also lowers your risk of gestational diabetes by over 27 percent. Future moms who work out regularly are 55 percent less likely to need an episiotomy and 75 percent less likely to have a C-section. Also, their risk of giving birth to a macrosomic baby is 58 lower compared to those with a sedentary lifestyle.
Pregnancy exercise can improve your health on every level. Even a short workout session increases the levels of serotonin, a chemical that lifts your mood and wards off depression. Pilates, yoga, and other activities that are popular among future moms relax the mind and body, helping you chill out. Physical activity may also help relieve morning sickness and boost your immune system. Recent studies have found that kids of women who exercise while pregnant get higher scores on language and intelligence tests, have a healthier heart, and are less likely to become obese in adulthood.
Are There Any Risks?
With a few exceptions, exercise is safe for most women during pregnancy. You should be able to work out as long as you don’t have severe anemia, ruptured membranes, or placenta previa. Physical activity is not recommended to women with persistent bleeding during the second and third trimester of pregnancy. Other health problems that may keep you from working out include restrictive lung disease, heart disease, and multiple gestations at risk of premature labor.
As a rule of thumb, consult your doctor before starting an exercise program during pregnancy. Certain conditions can interfere with your ability to work out, and worsen your symptoms. These include poorly controlled hyperthyroidism, seizures, severe hypertension, extreme underweight, morbid obesity, chronic bronchitis, and maternal cardiac arrhythmia. If you haven’t exercised in years, stick to light activities, such as walking or cycling on a stationary bike.
What Exercises Are Best for Pregnant Women?
Some exercises are better than others during pregnancy. Moms-to-be can opt for prenatal yoga, pilates, swimming, brisk walking, jogging, low impact aerobics, and strength training. Certain activities, especially those that involve rapid movements, lying flat on your back, or poses that twist the abdomen, should be avoided.
Hot yoga, sky diving, horseback riding, contact sports, water skiing, and gymnastics are not considered safe for pregnant women. The same goes for racquet sports, which involve sudden changes in direction and increase the risk of falling. If you’re into strength training, stick to low and moderate weights. This isn’t the best time to challenge yourself or break personal records.
Avoid working out when it’s hot outside or when you have fever. After the first trimester, steer clear of any activities that involve lying flat on your back. Stop exercising in case of uterine contractions, chest pain, dizziness, or vaginal bleeding. If you can’t go to the gym, take daily walks and do bodyweight exercises at home.
Make sure you stay hydrated and get enough calories. Exercise increases your daily calorie needs, so it’s important to take in enough nutrients. Warm up before training to prevent injuries. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workouts. Dehydration can trigger contractions and overheating. If you’re a beginner, start small to build up your endurance. Listen to your body and get plenty of rest. Prenatal exercise shouldn’t feel like a chore. Be consistent and stick to your routine to fully reap the benefits.