Pregnancy & Exercise
We all know regular exercise is great for our health and wellbeing and these benefits continue even when one is pregnant. Yet for a lot of women, pregnancy can seem like the perfect excuse to skip working out for 7-8 months of the year. However, along with decreased activity, many pregnant women also increase their eating. And by a lot more than what is recommended. This can negatively affect your pregnancy weight gain and make it harder for you to lose weight after the birth of the baby.
Training Whilst Pregnant Considerations
The problem for many women is that they’re unsure of the safety and type of exercises that would suit them and this stops them from participating in activities and exercises they might normally have, prior to falling pregnant. If you’re planning a pregnancy or pregnant and have these same concerns or just simply curious, then this article will help clarify the masses of information and research out there so that you will be able to make a more informed choice about exercise and pregnancy. This article is split into two. Part 1 will cover the safety and benefits of exercise for pregnant women, the amount and type of exercises that you can perform and also some Do's and Don'ts when it comes to exercising during this important time of you and your family's life.
Training Whilst Pregnant Safety & Benefits
Before you consider exercising, you should know that there is general consensus by Sports Medicine Australia, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and many other independent and government institutions that support exercise for pregnant women and concede that there are no reported adverse pregnancy outcomes with exercise during pregnancy. In terms of benefits, there is some evidence that regular exercise during pregnancy can help with maternal weight gain. That is, those who exercise seem to weigh less and gain less weight than controls. It is hard to make conclusive statements about exercise and weight gain during pregnancy, but considering Australia’s title of the fattest nation in the world, it might be beneficial to develop and maintain good exercise and diet habits during and after pregnancy. Other proposed benefits of exercising during pregnancy is the possibility that it can help with improving insulin sensitivity which can help with Gestational Diabetes; a form of pregnancy induced diabetes affecting 5% of pregnant women and the most common complication during pregnancy. There is also some evidence suggesting regular exercise can help with mental health by elevating self-esteem. While it is still early days, regular exercise during and after pregnancy may be able to help reduce levels of postnatal depression.
Exercising for Pregnant Women - The In's & Out's
Let’s have a look at what you can do in terms of exercise according to the FITT principles. For the general pregnant population, following the American College of Sports Medicine Recommendations appears to be safe and well tolerated.
- Exercise on most if not all days of the week. In other words, 5 or more is safe, tolerable and recommended.
- Moderate intensity exercise is recommended. Low intensity exercise may also be done, but may not have the same cardio-respiratory benefits. High intensity exercise should be considered with caution and discussed on a case by case basis with a medical professional.
- Moderate intensity exercise is akin to a brisk walk of up to 5-6.5km/hr. This level may be more depending on the level of fitness of the individual.
- Due to changes in heart rate with pregnancy, a better measure of intensity over percentage of maximum heart rate is the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). That is; on a sliding scale of 6-20 of difficulty of exercise, a figure of 12-14 (moderately hard) is a good figure to adopt.
- 30 mins per session is safe and tolerable for women cleared to exercise.
- Up to 45 minutes can be considered, but the longer the duration, the more factors need to be considered.
- Consider energy intake vs. output, temperature regulation and splitting the workout.
- Aerobic exercise should be done which use large muscle groups in a continuous rhythmic manner. Activities include; walking, hiking, cycling, jogging/running and swimming among others.
- Resistance exercises are also safe to include in your workout program. Compound exercises (exercises working more than one muscle group) over a large range of motion and high repetitions (12-15 reps) are safe and effective during pregnancy.
Exercise & Pregnancy - Do's & Don'ts
Exercising while pregnant comes with it more concerns than for regular non pregnant women. Follow these Do’s and Don’t of exercising while pregnant to ensure a safer workout for you and your baby:
- Do make changes to your diet and nutrition. Exercise places extra demands on your body on top of the already increased demands of the baby.
- Do exercise at a pace that is comfortable for you.
- Do have regular check ups with your doctor to ensure that you are tolerating the exercise.
- Do workout with a friend or in places with supervision.
- Do start reducing your workouts closer to pregnancy.
- Do exercise in a temperature controlled environment and constantly stay hydrated to prevent high body temperature increases
- Don’t make this period of time as a way to dramatically increase your physical fitness and exercise workload or exert yourself significantly.
- Don’t participate in exercises and activity that involve high risks such as skiing, rock climbing or scuba diving.
- Don’t regularly participate in high impact sports such as tennis or running. While it is tolerable to a certain extent, your joints and your baby will thank you for not doing these exercises too often.
- Don’t perform isometric (static) or heavy resistance exercises and don’t hold your breath during resistance exercises.
Stay Active During Pregnancy
It is paramount to look after your baby while it is still in the womb, but it is also important to be looking after yourself. Your body is the vessel that will hold and nurture the baby during pregnancy and your health and wellbeing both physically and mentally after birth will help you tackle the extra demands of child rearing. Following the exercise program mentioned above and keeping in mind the Do's and Don'ts will help you throughout these next couple of months. Being pregnant though will mean extra concerns while exercising so stay tuned to Part 2 of this exciting article for some extra advice about what to look out for while exercising. Part 2 looks at recreational sports and exercising as a pregnant competitive athlete.1 Sports Medicine Australia. SMA statement: the benefits and risks of exercise during pregnancy. J Sci Med Sport. 2002;5:11–19.
2 ACOG Committee. Opinion no. 267: exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Obstet Gynecol. 2002;99:171–3.
3 Artal R & O’Toole M. ‘Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period.’ Br J Sports Med 2003;37:6–12