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In Shape and Pregnant

Safe and unsafe exercises during pregnancy

Don't think you're off the hook from exercise just because you're pregnant. Pregnancy isn't an excuse to sit around. Rather, it's a wake up call! You're now not only responsible for your health, but the health of the new life growing inside you. Staying active will help you maintain a healthy weight, increase your energy level, relieve stress, and improve your sleep. It will also help relieve that aching back, prepare you for the hard work of labor, and even prevent gestational diabetes.

Many women wonder what exercises are safe during pregnancy and which should be avoided. The guidelines proposed in this article pertain to women without medical or obstetric conditions, so always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Get Moving!

For those women who worked out prior to pregnancy, it's safe to continue a similar routine as long as your doctor gives the okay and you feel comfortable. Women out of shape should ease into exercise by starting with just a few minutes a day and gradually working up to at least 30 minutes.

As far as the best pregnancy workouts go, walking is near the top. A moderate-intensity pace provides a great cardio workout that's easy on the joints. No special equipment is needed and you can walk just about anywhere. Other choices include swimming, a stationary bike, low-impact aerobics, or slow jogging. Strength training is generally fine if heavy lifting is avoided. Before a big belly throws off your center of gravity, activities like tennis or racquetball are also considered safe. Bodyweight exercises like squatting may help prepare your body for labor and pelvic tilts may be beneficial for relieving back pain.

Recreational exercise does not increase the incidence of either smaller than average babies or premature labor; and it actually may decrease the incidence of both. - James F. Clapp III, Exercising Through Your Pregnancy

Don't Risk It

During pregnancy, the body requires more oxygen than usual and hormones loosen ligaments, putting you at risk for injury. The added weight of the baby places stress on joints, making it easier to lose your balance. Due to these increased demands on a woman's body, certain movements and activities can be dangerous.

For the nine months of pregnancy and a few weeks after delivery, stay safe and avoid the following:

  • Contact sports and activities that require jumping, twisting, running, and quick changes in direction. This includes soccer, basketball, hockey, and any activity that puts you at risk for falling (skiing, horseback riding, and gymnastics).
  • Scuba diving; exercising at a high altitude or in hot, humid conditions; or exercises that have you lie on the right side or on the back for longer than three minutes (after the first trimester).

Know When to Quit

Exercise is recommended during pregnancy, but always listen to your body and watch for warning signs that something's not right. Stop exercising and call your doctor if you experience chest pain; irregular or rapid heartbeat; dizziness; abdominal pain; headache; a lack of fetal movement; vaginal bleeding; fluid leaking from the vagina; uterine contractions; swelling of the face, hands, or ankles; or unusual muscle weakness.

Exercise Guidelines

Always take care when exercising to prevent dehydration, injury, or overexertion—especially when you’re pregnant. Drink water before, during, and following your workout. Consume enough calories to provide energy for your pregnancy (300 more than usual) as well as fuel your workout. Exercise at a pace you can talk through to avoid overdoing it. Wear supportive, comfortable shoes and exercise on a level surface to avoid falls.