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Pregnancy and exercise: a time to bloom and move!
In the past, being pregnant has been associated with eating for two, taking naps and sitting around a lot. But there’s a lot to be said for staying active and maintaining safe movement in your day. Although, exercising may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re expecting, it’s actually very important to stay active while you’re pregnant – and beyond!
Regular exercise, if it’s safe to do so, has many health benefits for you and your baby from better mental health and deeper sleep to reduced back and pelvic pain and even a lower risk of gestational diabetes.
“Staying physically active during your pregnancy can help with stress relief, energy levels and even reduce your back and pelvic pain.”
Of course, it’s best to check your planned exercise program with your pregnancy healthcare team to assess any medical risks.
The benefits of exercise during pregnancy
You’d be surprised by how many benefits you can enjoy just by doing a little moderate exercise every week while you’re pregnant.
Staying active during your pregnancy can help you:
- prepare for labour
- feel fitter and more energetic
- sleep better
- lower your risk of gestational diabetes
- reduce back and pelvic pain
- lower the risk of incontinence
- enjoy better mental health
- decrease in delivery complications
- recover faster after birth
- reduce your risk of postnatal depression.
Regular exercise can also help to reduce the risk of developing the following pregnancy complications:
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension
How much exercise is enough?
Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you should try to keep active every day. In fact, the Australian Department of Health encourages pregnant women to engage in some form of physical activity most days – if not every day.
The general recommendation every week is:
- 2 ½ to 5 hours of low intensity exercise
If you’ve previously been inactive or if you’re overweight, it’s important to limit your exercise duration to 15 to 20 minutes at the start of exercising and build up to 30 minute sessions over time.
What exercises should you be doing?
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) recommends a combination of aerobic and strength conditioning exercise.
“Light weights, resistance bands and using your body weight are all great for strength conditioning.”
Aerobic exercise or ‘cardio’ means ‘with oxygen’. It’s continuous exercise that increases your breathing and heart rate and keeps your heart, lungs and circulatory system healthy.
The following aerobic exercises are generally safe to do during pregnancy:
- Walking at a brisk pace
- Swimming or aqua aerobics
- Jogging (if you’re already jogging regularly)
- Stationary cycling.
Strengthening or anaerobic exercise involves short bursts of energy and is usually higher in intensity. Anaerobic exercise is any activity that breaks down glucose for energy without using oxygen. A lot of energy releases in a small period of time, and your oxygen demand is greater than your oxygen supply.
RANZCOG recommends pregnant women perform strengthening exercises twice a week on non-consecutive days. These exercises should cover the main muscle groups in the body and can include the following:
- Light weights
- Bodyweight (a yoga class is ideal)
- Elasticised resistance-bands.
When you’re pregnant, you should avoid:
- lifting heavy weights
- Walking lunges
- straining your body in any way.
You should aim for one to two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions for each strengthening exercise. Remember not to over-exert yourself with these exercises. Keep your intensity level moderate and your movements slow and steady.
What exercises should you avoid while you’re pregnant?
If your pregnancy coincides with a hot Aussie summer, you should always avoid strenuous exercise during very warm or humid weather. And stay away from any exercises that involve lying flat on your back after your first trimester.
And even if you’re a big fan of high-impact contact sports, you should avoid any form of exercise that may put you at risk of falling over or getting hit, like:
- Kickboxing, judo, squash and rugby
- Horseriding, skiing, or gymnastics.
When should you stop exercising? The warning signs
If you start feeling any of the following symptoms, it’s important to stop exercising immediately and see your doctor:
- Dizzy or feeling faint
- Chest pain or heart palpitations
- Unusual shortness of breath
- Vaginal bleeding
- Excessive fatigue
- Muscle weakness.
“Exercising during pregnancy is not a race. Let your body be your guide so keep it light, regular and always pace yourself.”
Ask your pregnancy healthcare team for guidance on exercising
It’s always best to play it safe if you’re thinking of starting an exercise regime during your pregnancy – especially if you’ve never been very physically active before. Make some time to speak with your doctor, midwife or your physiotherapist for extra guidance, support and information.
Phone support includes:
- The Pregnancy, Birth and Baby helpline on 1800 882 436 will put you in touch with a maternal health nurse 7am to midnight, seven days a week.
- Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 will give you access to a registered nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
…and do some online research for extra peace of mind
- Exercise during pregnancy at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
- Pregnancy: your essential guide at the Raising Children Network
You can have your regular exercise routine – and eat your cake too!
A little bit of consistent, moderate exercise while you’re pregnant can go a long way in keeping you – and your baby – healthy during pregnancy and beyond. From light weight training and an aqua aerobics class to a brisk walk or a slow yoga session in your living room the benefits of physical movement are varied and worth the stretch!
Exercising during pregnancy can help regulate your moods, encourage deeper sleep and support a healthier delivery for your baby with a reduced risk of complications. The key is moderation. Take it slow and steady and always consult your pregnancy healthcare team before you begin any new exercise regime. Simply, let your body be your guide.
For more helpful articles on healthy living during and beyond pregnancy, check out our Pregnancy section.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
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