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Exercises

Exercise during pregnancy: Effects and Exercise advice

April 29, 2020

Newly expecting mothers that lead active lifestyles may have some questions about exercise during pregnancy. If you’re newly expecting, there’s no need to fear trading your active lifestyle for something less adventurous. On the contrary!

Healthy pregnant women require at least 2 hours of mild to moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly, meaning activity that causes you to break a mild sweat and increase your heart rate.

In this ultimate “Sport exercises for pregnant women” guide 2021 we want to inform you about healthy and also unhealthy exercises during pregnancy:

  • What are the best exercises for pregnant women?
  • What exercises should pregnant women avoid?
  • What nutritional and supplemental need comes with exercise during pregnancy?

Before beginning a new workout regimen, especially when you’re pregnant, the first thing to do is check with your healthcare provider. You should receive a thorough clinical evaluation to ensure there is no medical reason to avoid exercise.


In a nutshell

  • Two to two and a half hours of mild to moderate-intensity aerobic exercise is safe for most healthy pregnant women.
  • Suppose your healthcare provider determines that exercise is safe for you. In that case, there is no increased chance for miscarriage, premature birth, or a low birth weight due to exercising during your pregnancy.
  • An average weight gain during pregnancy lies between 10–16 kg.
  • Brisk walking, group dancing or aerobic classes, swimming, and indoor cycling are the safest and most effective exercises for pregnant women.
  • There are several exercises to avoid, including prone or supine positioned activities or sports that involve an altitude change.
  • Nutrition and supplementation are necessary during pregnancy, but there are additional requirements for those who exercise during pregnancy.

What Exercises Are Safe During Pregnancy?

Many exercises are completely safe for pregnant women that a healthcare provider has cleared. Still, some conditions, like severe anemia, can rule out exercise for pregnant women, so be sure that you’re cleared before beginning any exercise regimen. Pregnant women with cervical insufficiency, hypertension, or preeclampsia may find exercise unsafe for them during pregnancy.

Exercise during pregnancy can help ease some common pregnancy discomforts like constipation and swollen legs and ankles and even reduce some risks of pregnancy complications. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, here are some approved exercises and some exercises to avoid:

Safe ExercisesExercises to avoid
WalkingProne or Supine Positioned Exercises
Group Dance or Aerobic ClassesSports that Increase Abdominal Injury
SwimmingJumping, Bouncing, Jerking Motions
Indoor CyclingSports with Altitude Shifts
Table 1: Safe vs unsafe exercies during pregnancy

Walking

Walking is one of the most simple and practical exercises you can perform right up to your delivery date. Walking doesn’t require any additional equipment, no gym membership, and no added cost. A brisk walk can increase your heart rate and get you the aerobic workout necessary for pregnant women.

Be aware of the terrain that you are walking on. Avoid any surfaces that can increase your chances of falling. If you choose to hike, make sure the trail you choose is reasonably even, especially later in your pregnancy, when your belly may block a bit of your view. Hikes with slippery conditions should be avoided.

Indoor options like ellipticals and stair steppers may be an alternative to walking on unpredictable terrain outside. If you chose to exercise on these machines, pay close attention to where you step to avoid stumbles and be mindful that you may need to use a lower resistance than you performed pre-pregnancy.

Walking during pregnancy won’t strain your joints or muscles. Keeping your mind healthy and your body physically fit will give you increased energy and even help you sleep and manage stress better. Walking is an excellent, less strenuous option for exercise.

Group Dance or Aerobic Classes

For those newer to the world of exercise, low-intensity aerobic classes and dance classes similar to Zumba can be an ideal way to ease into exercise while still increasing your heart rate to receive some of those benefits that can come along with it. Mild to moderate-intensity classes should be worked up to gradually but pose no additional health risks.

Drink a lot of water during group dance or aerobic classes, and be mindful of overexerting yourself. If you become exhausted or overheated, stop the activity immediately.

Be sure to warm up before exercise and cool down after you are done. Stopping exercise abruptly will trap blood in your muscles and reduce your overall blood flow to other areas of your body. Warming up will give less of a shock to your circulatory system. It’s essential to listen to your body, start slowly if you are new to exercise, and not go overboard if you are experienced in the gym.

Swimming

Swimming, either freestyle or in a water aerobics class, is one of the most ideal exercises when pregnant. The buoyancy of the water makes you feel lighter than when you are out of the water, so any joint pain you are feeling will be eased instantly. Swimming can increase your heart rate just as well as many other exercises but comes with a few bonuses.

Swimming can offer a multitude of benefits, including:

  • Relieving Nausea.
  • Relieving sciatic pain and swollen legs and ankles.
  • Loosening your joints, ligaments as the baby floats with you.
  • Ease pelvic pressure and pressure on your hips and lower back.

Some temptations come hand in hand with pools and should be avoided by pregnant women: saunas and hot tubs. Any environment that raises your body temperature more than 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit should be avoided. The blood will rush to your uterus and away from the baby in an attempt to cool your skin and body back down.

Indoor Cycling

Indoor cycling gives you the benefits of cycling without outside temperature fluctuations or added stress to the knee and ankle joints and ligaments. When taking an indoor cycling class, one necessary item is to let your instructor know that you’ll be sitting out any sprints if you become overheated at any point

To avoid putting additional pressure on your lower back, be sure to adjust the handlebars to avoid leaning forward. Be sure to listen to your body, and stop if you become too exhausted. If you are new to cycling, start slowly and work your intensity up gradually.

Pregnant women interested in beginning a workout regimen should be cleared by their healthcare provider and monitored throughout their pregnancy. Be mindful of the duration of your exercise, the intensity, and the environment you are exercising in.

QuestionAnswer
When can I start doing exercises?You can start your training from the first trimester.
How long should the exercise duration be like?One session should last 30-60 minutes.
How often should I do sport?3-4 a week is a good starting point, but you can also go up to every day.
How intensive should the training be?Your heart should not exceed 140 beats per minute.
In which environment should I train?It should be Thermoneutral or air conditioned. Avoid long exposure to heat!
Do I need supervision during exercising?It is preferred and recommended, but not necessary!
When should I end exercising?It is possible to do sports until delivery, but respect your personal tolerance level.
Table 1: Safe and Effective Exercise Characteristics during Pregnancy

What Exercises Should I Avoid During Pregnancy?

Many exercises are perfectly safe for women during pregnancy, some as they are and some with modifications, but there are a few specific exercises to avoid when you are pregnant. We have discussed some conditions that should be avoided, like fluctuations in the temperature of your environment and positions to avoid exercising in. Still, these exercises should be avoided even in the most optimal conditions.

Prone Or Supine Positioned Exercises

Supine positioned exercises are exercises where you are lying flat on your back. After the fourth month of pregnancy, the uterus has reached a weight that can compress major blood vessels when you are lying on your back. Compressing these blood vessels can temporarily cut off blood circulation to your baby.

Lying in a prone position or on your stomach with your back up is not likely to be comfortable after the first trimester, but more importantly, it can add pressure to your fetus and reduce blood flow. This can lead to shortness of breath, dizziness, or nausea. Be on the lookout for these symptoms during any point of your pregnancy.

Sports with Chances for Increased Abdominal Injury

Any sport with increased chances for abdominal injury should be avoided. Most competitive sports will fall into this category and should be avoided. Any activity with an increased chance of falling, any sport or exercise on uneven terrain, especially hiking, and any sport or exercise performed outside on a warm day should all be avoided.

Not all sports pose an immediate increase of abdominal injury, but be mindful of any that include a ball or other object in play. Listen to your body and take note if you suddenly feel nauseous, dizzy, or short of breath. Stop any activity if you feel these symptoms while exercising or playing any sport.

Cycling or Hiking that Involves Altitude Change

Unless you are already living in high altitudes and have become acclimated, any activity that takes you higher than 6,000ft is not recommended for pregnant women. A swift altitude change can decrease the amount of oxygen in the blood and lead to a condition called hypoxia.

Some of the most common symptoms of hypoxia are:

  • Rapid breathing, fast heart rate, and shortness of breath
  • Changing of the skin color
  • Confusion
  • Sweating, wheezing or coughing

Again, listen to your body, avoid harsh conditions, and avoid altitude changes greater than 6,000ft.

Sports Involving Jumping, Bouncing, or Jerking Motion

Sports involving jumping, bouncing, or jerking motion are best to avoid during pregnancy. Horseback riding, basketball, jumping, skipping, skiing, and any similar sport are not good ideas for pregnant women.

Vigorous jumping during pregnancy can result in vaginal bleeding, preterm labor, or a possible miscarriage. During pregnancy, your baby is placed increasing pressure on your pelvic floor, making it unable to respond as quickly to high-impact movements. Jumping, bouncing, and jerking motions can result in many complications.

If you find yourself performing any of these motions, even in modifications, listen to your body. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists state some warning signs telling you to discontinue exercise during pregnancy:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Abdominal pain
  • Regular painful contractions
  • Amniotic fluid leakage
  • Dyspnea before exertion
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle weakness affecting balance
  • Calf pain or swelling


Do I Need To Adjust My Nutrition During an Active Pregnancy?

Balanced and varied diets are essential for a pregnant woman and their child. Your baby depends on the nutrition from your diet and any prenatal supplementation.

Some recommended nutrition habits and foods are ideal for their nutritional value:

  • Vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, greens, and tomatoes are ideal for their vitamin A and potassium.
  • Fruits like mangoes, prunes, bananas, apricots, oranges, and grapefruit are suitable for their potassium.
  • Dairy products like low-fat yogurt, skim, or 1% milk is ideal sources of calcium and vitamins A and D.
  • Grains like ready-to-eat or cooked cereals are essential for iron and folic acid.
  • Proteins such as beans, nuts, seeds, lean beef, lamb, and pork help achieve a necessary protein intake minimum of 60 grams per day for pregnant women.

It is best to avoid unpasteurized milk, foods made with unpasteurized milk, lunch meats, and raw or undercooked seafood, meat, and eggs. These foods and drinks can contain bacteria that may harm your baby.

Adding an exercise routine into your life during your pregnancy does not require any additional nutritional needs. Still, it does require that you maintain a balanced, healthy diet, follow any dietary instructions given to you by your healthcare provider, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.


What About Supplementation for Sport?

While sports supplements are widely used, including some on the market specifically for pregnant women, any supplements with added caffeine are not recommended. Protein supplements may be acceptable, but run any dietary changes or need by your practitioner for the final ‘OK.’

Routine supplementation while pregnant, however, is critical. The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume .4 milligrams of folic acid daily. Folic acid can be found naturally in berries, leafy greens, citrus fruits, nuts, and beans. Iodine and Iron are two additional supplements required during pregnancy.

  • Iodine is essential for your baby’s brain development and nervous system
  • Your body requires increased iron during pregnancy. Eat plenty of iron-rich foods.
  • Foods with vitamin C will help your body absorb iron.

Prenatal vitamins are essential for pregnant women. Iodine, folic acid, and iron are found in prenatal vitamins, along with several additional vitamins that prevent pregnancy complications:

  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc
  • Copper

Vitamins and supplements will not take the place of a healthy, balanced diet. Talk to your healthcare provider to find any specific dietary or supplemental additions you may need.


Additional information

Additional exercises for pregnant women to avoid:

  • Backbends or contortion
  • Excessive or bouncy stretching
  • Activities that require holding breath
  • Exercises that include motionless standing

Post Partum Exercise

The postpartum period is the perfect time to refocus and cement healthy habits and a healthy lifestyle, as tricky as it may be, especially for first-time mothers. Exercise routines can be resumed gradually after delivery as soon as medically safe. Pelvic floor and abdominal strengthening exercises can be particularly beneficial in this period.

Obesity

Pregnant women with obesity are encouraged to begin exercise slowly and make dietary adjustments to provide a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Those new to exercise should be mindful of overexerting themselves. Begin with low-intensity exercises for short durations rather than moderate-intensity exercises. Obese pregnant women should gradually increase intensity and duration as they are able.

Athletes

For women that are no stranger to the gym, competition athletes, or bodybuilders, there are options for increased intensity exercises. After being cleared by a practitioner, some increased intensity exercises that are safe for most pregnancies include:

  • HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training): High-Intensity interval training may be done with some modifications to avoid prone and supine positions and eliminate jumping, jerking, or jarring movements. Be careful during exercises that involve balance, listen to your body, and drink a lot of water.
  • Weightlifting: Weight lifting is a great way to increase muscle tone during pregnancy, especially if you are a seasoned lifter. Avoid isometric motions as they may cause you to hold your breath. Consistent oxygen flow is a must for your baby. Be mindful of your range of motion, and if free weights become too taxing, switch to machines.
  • Kickboxing: If you are a seasoned kickboxer with an ‘OK’ from your healthcare provider, you may continue in the ring. Be sure to vocalize that you are pregnant to instructors and opponents (or find a class for expecting mothers). Know your limitations, start slow, and do not overwork yourself.

Conclusion

Pregnant women require two to two and a half hours of mild to moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week after being cleared by a health professional. Some situations call for lower intensity exercise or none at all. Once cleared by a healthcare provider, exercises like walking, swimming, and dance or aerobic classes are ideal for pregnant women.

Some activities should be avoided by pregnant women, including prone or supine positioned exercises, sports with altitude shifts, jumping, bouncing, or sports with increased chances for abdominal injury. Pregnant women should always listen to their bodies and look for warning signs to discontinue exercises, such as vaginal bleeding, chest pain, dizziness, or trouble balancing.

There is no additional nutritional need, but a balanced healthy diet approved by a healthcare provider and prenatal supplementation is essential.


References

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