There are a lot of things you have to give up during pregnancy—but research tells us that exercise is not one of them. According to many of the leading organizations on women’s health, the benefits of a fitness routine during pregnancy are outright tremendous (for you and your baby).
While women in the 1950s and ’60s were advised to rest and take it easy for nine long months, today’s medical professionals encourage physical activity (with your doctor’s approval) throughout every trimester. Both the American Pregnancy Association and the Mayo Clinic note that regular exercise reduces backaches, constipation, bloating and swelling. Exercise will also increase your energy level, improve your mood, promote muscle tone, and help you get better sleep.
In terms of a healthy pregnancy, moving your body can be a game-changer. Recent studies published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology reveal that exercise routines lead to lower incidences of gestational diabetes, hypertension, and preeclampsia, as well as fewer pre-term and c-section births. Research also demonstrates that prenatal workouts allow you to maintain healthy weight gain and improve your glucose and cardiac control, placental efficiency, and oxidative stress.
Pregnancy can be a time of wonder and joy. But there are plenty of times when we wonder when the “joy” part is going to kick in. Hormones, stress and physical discomfort can be triggers for anxiety and depression—which often go unrecognized and untreated. Fortunately, exercise has remarkable benefits for your prenatal mental health.
There is a strong association between physical fitness and reducing pregnancy-related symptoms, like bodily fatigue, poor sleep, and having to pee every 5 minutes. Those aching lower backs that at least 60% of us suffer from? Public-health research shows that strengthening abdominal and back muscles measurably minimizes this risk. Also, including cardiovascular workouts during pregnancy results in less lumbar and sciatic pain overall.
And you are not the only one who benefits from exercise. Numerous studies confirm that staying fit during pregnancy contributes to healthier outcomes for your baby as well! Prenatal fitness has been related to enhanced efficiency of the placenta, a lower rate of c-sections, and optimal birth weight. It also has a positive influence on key markers of fetal health, such as heart rate and nervous system functioning. In addition, there is now evidence that newborns whose mothers exercise during pregnancy may become physically coordinated earlier than other babies.
Now that you’re motivated, it’s good to know that even the most risk-averse practitioners do not believe pregnancy should be a state of confinement. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, preferably in 20- to 30-minute bouts. (Here’s one of my favorite workouts that can be done in less time than it takes to watch a TV sitcom!)
Put simply, the principles of exercise for pregnant women really don’t differ much from those for the general population. If you already were a fitness fanatic—and have no medical reasons to avoid exercise during your pregnancy—you can continue your routine, just at a less-intense level. For healthy non-exercisers with a normal pregnancy, this is actually a great time to start working out! The ACOG recommends that you begin gradually, with 5 minutes a day, then add 5 minutes a week until you reach the 30-minute mark.
As always, it’s important to listen to your body. Slow down or discontinue strenuous workouts if you feel lightheaded, nauseous, or experience spotting. Remember—you aren’t exercising to lose weight. You’re exercising to stay fit, maintain a healthy pregnancy, and prepare your body for labor and postpartum. Programs like Knocked-Up Fitness are specifically designed with this in mind and offer short-and-sweet workouts that focus on deep core muscles (like your pelvic floor and transverse abdominals).
The point is to do something every day that helps you feel your best throughout every stage of pregnancy. Whether it’s exercising during your 1st trimester, making fitness modifications for your 2nd trimester, or adjusting your routine for the 3rd trimester and postpartum recovery, I’m happy to share research-backed wellness practices that will last a lifetime.
Healthy Pregnancy Fitness Tips:
- Incorporate 30-60 minutes of movement every day (yes, walking counts).
- Aim for at least 3 hours/week of cardio to maximize benefits.
- Add in strength resistance exercise (like pilates and yoga) 2-4 times a week.
- Avoid dehydration by keeping a bottle of water nearby.
- Do not work out in high heat and humidity, particularly during the first trimester.
- Prevent injuries by taking *extra* care to keep your balance.