A lot of pregnant women feel nervous and apprehensive about exercising during pregnancy but exercising regularly when pregnant has some wonderful benefits for your health and wellbeing.
1. It prepares your body for the birth: Exercise will help prepare your body for the physical demands of labour and childbirth by improving your muscle tone, strength and endurance. Studies have also shown that it may even help shorten your labour. Result!
2. It improves your mood: Exercise can help improve your mood, lift your spirits and if you are able to stomach it, it can help alleviate some of your morning sickness symptoms. Classes such as pregnancy yoga and pilates are especially helpful in dealing with the anxiety and worries associated with labour and childbirth.
3. It increases your energy levels: Let’s face it, pregnancy can be a real energy zapper, but taking regular exercise, even if it’s just a brisk walk, can make you feel less tired by strengthening your organs.
4. It may keep pregnancy complications at bay: Studies have shown that exercising regularly during pregnancy may help to reduce your risk of pre-eclampsia and when combined with a healthy diet, it can help to manage your blood sugar levels if you develop gestational diabetes.
5. It improves your quality of sleep: During pregnancy, it can be a real challenge finding a comfortable sleeping position, but studies have shown that regular exercise can burn off excess energy and improve your quality of sleep (as long as it is not performed too close to bedtime).
6. It helps you maintain a healthy weight: Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight during your pregnancy and it will make getting back into shape after your baby is born a lot easier. Watching your scales reach numbers that you have never seen before can be difficult, but exercising in pregnancy decreases the likelihood of excessive weight gain and will therefore help you feel better about yourself by making it easier for you to adapt to your changing shape.
7. It can help ease your pregnancy niggles: Strengthening your muscles through exercise, can help ease all the little niggles that can blight your pregnancy. Stretching can decrease muscle cramps in the legs and strengthening exercises especially those for the abdominals and hip musculature can help to decrease or prevent the lower back pain that plagues many women especially in the later stages of pregnancy.
8. It can help reduce pregnancy constipation: Exercise can improve bowel function and reduce the discomfort of pregnancy-related constipation.
9. Psychological benefits: Studies show that women who exercise regularly during pregnancy are more relaxed and are therefore able to cope better with the emotional and physiological strains of pregnancy, including the demands of labour. Pregnant ladies who exercise have a better sense of wellbeing due to a number of positive effects from exercise such as greater weight control, better body image and self-esteem, improved sleep and increased energy levels. It is also believed that this positive effect on mental health continues after pregnancy and may decrease the incidence of postnatal depression.
Whether you are a regular exerciser or new to this exercising malarky, there are some things you need to remember before exercising during pregnancy.
1. Talk to your medical team: You should always check with your doctor and/or midwife to see exactly how much exercise you can do during your pregnancy. Every pregnancy is different, so while some women are able to do lots of exercise, others will have to rest for the majority of their pregnancy. As a general rule, however, if you exercised regularly before your pregnancy, and you have no complications with the pregnancy, you can continue to exercise as before.
2. Avoid contact sports: It goes without saying that you should stay away from dangerous contact sports or any sports where you run the risk of falling over e.g. horse riding, skiing, mountain biking, basketball and netball. Cycling is ok in the early stages of pregnancy, although it is recommended that you cycle on a stationary bike as your pregnancy progresses just so that you don’t run the risk of falling off your bike!
3. Relaxin: During pregnancy, your body increases the levels of a hormone known as relaxin to relax your pelvic muscles during childbirth. Unfortunately it also relaxes all your other muscles too, so your body will be looser and therefore not as strong as it was before pregnancy, making you more susceptible to injuries such as sprains so take extra care when exercising.
4. Recommended exercises: The best exercises to do during pregnancy are gentle exercises that help to strengthen and support your entire body. Swimming is a fantastic pregnancy exercise, as the water supports your body and will enable you to exercise without any pressure on any of your joints. It is also brilliant for strengthening your stomach muscles which support the weight of your growing bump. Yoga and pilates are also great during pregnancy, as they help to maintain muscle tone and flexibility, strengthen the core and pelvic floor muscles and improve your posture. However, just a walk in the park or walking to the shops can help to keep you fit during pregnancy.
5. Mix it up: To maximize the benefits, prenatal exercise should include weight-bearing aerobic exercise, core strengthening, and stretching if possible. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing a brilliant exercise program for you to follow during your pregnancy. It has been developed especially for Hello Baby by a brilliant personal trainer who has lots of experience working with pregnant women. I’ve been doing it for the last few months and it is perfect for you to follow at the gym or in the comfort of your own home.
6. Don’t get out of breath: As a general rule, when exercising during pregnancy, you should be able to hold a conversation. If you are out of breath and unable to talk during exercise, then you are more than likely exercising too strenuously.
7. Stay hydrated: When exercising during pregnancy, you need to make sure that you stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. Dehydration can cause contractions and can raise your body temperature to dangerous levels – so make sure you drink plenty of water before exercising, during exercising, and after exercising.
8. Don’t overdo things: Trust your body and if you feel dizzy, faint, cramped, exhausted, too hot or experience any sudden pains in your abdomen – STOP and seek medical attention as soon as possible.