The Incredible Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
Hey ladies, it’s time for a little girl talk! The abundance of advice out there when it comes to pregnancy can be exhausting and confusing to sift through.
For a long time, the gold standard for fitness during pregnancy was to air on the safe side – limiting heart rate to below 140 bpm. However, thanks to recent research there is no heart rate limit for exercise during pregnancy (1).
Why? Because even women who were already heavily active prior to pregnancy that continue to participate in vigorous exercise throughout their pregnancies, experience healthy pregnancies. (2) And, there is a strong consensus in physicians today that there is benefit for both mom and baby with a regular exercise routine throughout pregnancy!
Benefits of Regular Exercise During Pregnancy
Improved health outcomes during and post pregnancy (3)
Reduces depression (4)
Decrease risk of birthing injuries (5)
Decreased risk for preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and preterm delivery (3,6,7,8)
Less likely to have unplanned cesarean section (9)
Keep healthy weight throughout pregnancy + postpartum (10)
Decrease risk of large infant without increasing risk of giving birth to a small infant (11, 12, 13)
Decrease risk of birthing injuries (5)
Decrease risk of obesity, diabetes, and other health concerns later in life (14, 15, 16, 17)
There are even more benefits than this with tons of anecdotal evidence, but I put only benefits I could find that had supported research above. So if you’re really interested in more benefits, give it a quick Google search, you’ll be amazed at what’s out there.
Fitness and Pregnancy
The standard for making safe fitness choices during pregnancy is based on the level of physical activity prior to pregnancy. Which means young women of any age who are trying to get pregnant, or are interested in some day having kids should be participating in a regular fitness routine.
The healthier you are when you get pregnant helps to ensure a pregnancy with fewer complications, and a quicker recovery (18). Amazing, right? This kind of stuff gets me so excited. This is an incredible reason for young women to participate in a healthy fitness routine. Anyways…off my soapbox, back to the facts.
Since the standard is all based on your activity before getting pregnant, I want to make some quick recommendations for women to consider prior to pregnancy.
Prior to Pregnancy
Prior to pregnancy, exercise is so important! Regularly exercising before pregnancy will help to set a habit of exercise, and finally set the standard for your fitness routine going into your pregnancy so you can continue to be super fit during pregnancy. Yay for being fit!
All women should at a minimum be meeting the CDC recommendation for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, along with 2 days a week of body strengthening activity (18). If you are not yet meeting these standards look to aim for:
30 minutes most days of the week
There are too many types of aerobic activities for you to be slaving away doing something you absolutely dread. If you love the treadmill, great; if you hate the treadmill, also great. I promise, there is a type of cardio out there you will enjoy! So do something you really like. And if you’re getting tired of that thing….find something new. Do what it takes to keep your routine going. Some examples include: walking, cycling, swimming, water aerobics, tennis, basketball, soccer, team sports, elliptical, stationary bike, etc.
Focus on all major body groups (Legs, Core (abs, lower back, hips, obliques), Chest, Back, Arms)
This could be standard weight lifting with free weights, machines, resistance bands at the gym, OR Crossfit, HIIT, calisthenics, circuit training, pilates, yoga, etc. There are so many ways to gain strength, you do not need to become a gym rat to get stronger! No one way is better than others, each of these methods of building strength will yield benefit so find something that’s right for you.
Pelvic Floor Strength
Begin 3 months prior to pregnancy
The stronger your pelvic floor before and during pregnancy the quicker and easier your recovery will be!
If you regularly participate in exercise prior to pregnancy, great! You are free to continue your exercise routine as tolerated. It’s important to note, women who continue to participate in vigorous exercise, even later in pregnancy, experience healthy pregnancies (2). There aren’t any guidelines on the upper limit for exercise during pregnancy.
However, there is a minimum recommendation. Which is exactly what was detailed above in the prior to pregnancy section. If you were doing the minimum before pregnancy, you’re amazing- continue. If you weren’t participating in exercise prior to pregnancy, this is a great time to start healthy habits like exercise and healthier eating.
Although, don’t go from doing nothing, to diving straight into some crazy exercise routine. Exercise should be gradually introduced into one’s routine- even if you aren’t pregnant, but especially if you are.
For example, start by incorporating 30 minute walks, 3 days a week, and 1 day of basic strength building activity. As the weeks go on, continue to add on activity until you’ve reached the minimum recommendation, and from there maintain your routine.
All of this being said…All pregnant women should monitor symptoms, discomforts, and abilities and make any necessary adjustments to their routine. Do what feels right for you and your baby, and most importantly: as you have discussed with your physician.
Create a plan with your physician that takes your prior exercise level, any pregnancy complications, or health history taken into consideration.
Some important considerations when it comes to an exercise routine during pregnancy….
Changes to Expect that May Affect Your Exercise Routine
Changing Center of Gravity
Because of the additional weight added to the front of your body, your center of gravity throughout pregnancy will change. Avoid contact sports, or activities that may increase your risk of falling such as horseback riding, skiing, or gymnastics.
Elevated Hormone Relaxin
Relaxin, does what it sounds. It relaxes your muscles and will make you more flexible than usual. Be careful not to stretch your muscles too far because of this, and when working out consider how to best control your movements.
A Word on Weightlifting
Avoid Valsalva Maneuver During Weight Lifting
The Valsalva Maneuver is a forceful exhalation done while holding your breath. This move can cause increased intra-abdominal pressure which is not recommended during pregnancy.
Balance During Weights
Because of the changing center of gravity during pregnancy (see point 2) many trainers will recommend using machines, resistance bands, or bodyweight exercise rather than free weights to reduce the fear of falling. And of course always have a spotter or supervision during weight lifting.
Need to Consume More Calories
Pregnancy requires 300 extra calories a day! And don’t forget, exercise requires even more calories to sustain your body weight, and more importantly to ensure your baby is getting the calories it needs to grow into a healthy beautiful baby! Discuss your diet with your physician.
Of course, each pregnancy is different. If you experience vaginal bleeding, dizziness or headache, amniotic fluid leakage, chest pain, shortness of breath prior to exercise – stop exercise immediately and check in with your doctor. Now more than ever it is key to listen to your body.
Don’t forget to step back daily, and listen to your body. I don’t know about you but I’m highly goal oriented and competitive with myself. I get down on myself when I don’t reach my fitness or diet goals for the day.
If you’re like me…take a chill pill. Especially during pregnancy give yourself grace, and always do what feels right. Your goals will always be there tomorrow. Pregnancy should be a positive time, feed into your positive feelings and emotions, and do what makes you feel most comfortable, confident and best.