(Article supplied by Candace Messina, MSc, Physiotherapist, Clinical Pilates Instructor at MaxFit Movement Institute)
There was a time when it was thought that pregnancy and exercise do not mix. Alas, we have come a long way since those days. There are though many healthy pregnant women who are not informed of the benefits of exercising during pregnancy and not given clear guidelines from their healthcare providers on how exercise safely.
So the short answer is yes, exercise and pregnancy can mix – but certain circumstances require special precautions.
Why do it? If you have a healthy pregnancy with no complications or medical concerns (check with your doctor first), exercising throughout your pregnancy is encouraged and beneficial. Here are a few amazing perks that of regular exercise during pregnancy:
- Improves posture and muscular balance as your body continues to change throughout pregnancy
- Improves core strength which can further help improve posture and stability; core strength comes in handy during the pushing phase of labour
- Improves circulation
- May help with the endurance and strength needed for labour
- Helps prevent gestational diabetes
- Assists with postpartum recovery (and gets you ready to carry your new little bundle of joy around!)
- Has numerous psychological benefits
- May help regulate appropriate weight gain (though do not attempt to diet while pregnant)
- It helps reduce fetal stress during labour
You may have heard bittersweet stories about the pelvic floor in the aftermath of pregnancy and childbirth. It’s true: set some time aside for pelvic floor exercises and you’ll thank yourself later. Pelvic floor exercises can help prevent incontinence during pre and postnatal phases.
Next steps. If you have the go ahead from your doctor, here are some general guidelines to help get you started:
- If you were active prior to pregnancy, continuing with the same activity level is generally safe. However, don’t set new ambitious goals (like run a marathon for the first time) that will push you past your regular limits.
- If you were not physically active prior to getting pregnant, don’t let that stop you. Pregnancy is still a great time to start! Just begin slowly with lower impact exercises such as walking, stationary bike, or swimming.
- Avoid any activities or sports that put you at risk of falling or sustaining an impact (contact sports are out of the question!)
- Be sure to properly warm up and cool down before and after exercising, keeping in mind that circulation changes a lot during pregnancy
- It goes without saying but still worth a warning: Avoid exercising in hot, humid weather and be sure to wear comfortable clothing that will help you remain cool
- Drink plenty of water!
- Avoid exercising in supine (laying down on your back) positions after your 4th month of pregnancy, especially if you start to feel dizzy or light-headed in that position
Let’s talk numbers. Confused about where your heart rate should be when exercising during pregnancy? Here is the lowdown on target zones:
- If you are 20 years and under: 140-155bpm
- If you are between 20 and 29 years old: 135-150bpm
- If you are 30 to 39: 130-145bpm
- listen to your body 1st and foremost though!
The trick to know if you are still in the proper ‘zone’, try the talk test: you should be able to carry on a verbal conversation while exercising (otherwise you’re working too hard.)
Ready to do it? Here are some suggestions of appropriate exercise options for most pregnant women:
- Stationary bicycle
- Swimming, prenatal aquafit, aquatic therapy (with a physiotherapist)
- Clinical Pilates (guided by a physiotherapist)
- Strength training (with proper technique and breathing)
- Pelvic floor exercises (a pelvic floor physiotherapist can be a great resource!)
If you have any specific questions about what type of exercise is appropriate for you, please consult your doctor, midwife or a physiotherapist trained in prenatal exercise. If you would like a specific prenatal exercise program that is individualized, consider working with a physiotherapist who works with prenatal patients or does clinical Pilates.
If it feels good (and beyond!) have fun with it and remember that not only are you taking good care of yourself during this special time in your life, but you are also giving your little babe a good start in life!
Note: Should you notice any physical discomfort during or after exercise, talk to your healthcare provider and try to identify the source of it before you go on.
Tags: Clinical Pilates, exercise, health, pelvic floor, physiotherapist, pregnancy, safety