Sorry gentlemen, this one is for the ladies. This week we’re going to look at exercise during pregnancy which can be a contentious issue but is one that requires an answer. The common questions I receive on this topic are ‘Is it safe for me to exercise while pregnant?’ and ‘What exercise should I undertake during pregnancy?’. The simple answer to the first question is yes, however, it depends on the stage of your pregnancy and the simple answer to the second question is anything that doesn’t place too much stress on your body.
It wasn’t long ago that women were being urged to cut down and even avoid exercise during pregnancy. Recently, times have changed and it is now acceptable, even encouraged, for women to exercise whilst pregnant. The following myths highlight the current school of thought on exercising whilst pregnant…
- Your heart rate shouldn’t go above 130 bpm whilst exercising
- You shouldn’t go running during pregnancy
- Exercising will remove nutrients from the body and deplete the baby
- You will be prone to more fitness-related injuries
It is important to realise that each woman is individual and will therefore have different tolerances and capabilities. Taking the first myth as an example, whilst we wouldn’t recommend maxing your heart rate, the comfortable heart rate you can reach while pregnant could be higher than 130 bpm but that is dependent on how far pregnant you are. New studies have suggested that if you were a runner before pregnancy you can continue with running but doctors have advised listening to your body. If you feel uncomfortable then stop and rest. There is no point putting yourself under undue stress. It’s also worth noting that there is no evidence that strenuous exercise will lead to a miscarriage despite many women being fearful of this, there is nothing to worry about.
So what are the benefits of exercising whilst pregnant? Reduced bloating and swelling, reduced backache, enhanced childbirth recovery, improved posture, possible faster delivery, improved energy, and decreased stress. Exercise keeps your endorphins (your body’s natural “happy” chemicals) flowing which is a crucial benefit, especially as it is now known that there are more mood disturbances during pregnancy than postpartum. However, while there are numerous benefits, we would avoid any exercise that can increase the risk of blunt trauma. As for the rest, there is an area of grey which we will consider now.
Despite the impracticalities of the bump, there are a number of exercises that can be safely performed during pregnancy…
- Running is possible but the intensity and duration will decrease as you progress through your pregnancy.
- Pilates is a great all-around exercise that helps tone and strengthens muscle. This is an idea for helping you deal with the extra weight you’ll be carrying around your mid-section.
- Lifting weights is a great way to strengthen the muscles.
- Swimming will provide a low-impact strengthening and cardiovascular workout that will not harm you or the baby at all.
- Pregnancy yoga uses relaxation and breathing techniques with postures that are adapted for pregnancy.
Whilst we are recommending exercise during pregnancy, there are some cautions we would like to highlight. The first is not to over-exert yourself. Simple we know but if you’re a competitive athlete the thought of not training as hard, as usual, may be strange and you could be tempted to push yourself. Don’t. Enjoy the very valid excuse of pregnancy and take a breather from training too seriously. Also, be aware that you will be prone to sports-related injuries because of the hormone change. It is advisable to not exercise for more than 45 minutes at a time and if you feel light-headed or dizzy then stop immediately, drink some water and take a rest. The additional strain of pregnancy on your body will make you prone to fatigue so listen to your body and if you feel unwell then take a break.
It is also worth noting that your body will have an estimated 50% more blood within it to accommodate that which is needed to feed the baby. This increases the requirements of the heart in pumping the blood around the body and is worth thinking about while exercising. In addition to this, you will find it harder to breathe because of the additional carbon dioxide you are having to remove from your system (yours and the babies). Avoid lying on your back. The weight of your uterus puts pressure on a major vein called the vena cava, which can reduce blood flow to your heart and may diminish blood flow to your brain and uterus. This can make you dizzy, short of breath, or nauseated. Some women are comfortable in this position well into their pregnancies, but this isn’t necessarily a good indication of whether blood flow to your uterus is affected. Putting pillows or a foam wedge behind your back to prop up your upper body while you exercise enables you to be almost flat on your back without compressing the vena cava.