Yes, pregnancy is a good time to begin exercising. The best advice is to start low and go slow. If you have not been exercising, start with walking. Aim for 15 minutes a day at first. If you feel okay, add five minutes every few days until you are walking for 30 minutes at a time.
Use the ‘talk test’ to guide your intensity. If you cannot talk, you are going too hard. You do not have to count your heart rate while exercising during pregnancy.
What other forms of exercise are safe?
All forms of aerobic exercise are safe in pregnancy. These include walking, running, swimming and cycling, as well as using gym equipment like a stair climber, rowing machine, and elliptical. Up to an hour of such activities is acceptable as long as you stay hydrated and do not overheat. Listen to your body. If you feel tired, slow down or stop.
Weight lifting and exercise classes are also safe in pregnancy. The right weight for you is one you can lift 10 to 12 times without holding your breath or grunting as you lift. If you find yourself doing this, use lighter weights until you can finish the set comfortably.
Some women do not feel comfortable lying flat on their back to lift weights, as with core exercises or bench press. If you feel unwell or have pain in your abdomen, stop the activity. If you feel well doing those exercises, then it is safe to continue.
You should not parachute, hang glide, or scuba dive when you are pregnant. Training for a long distance event, such as a marathon, triathlon or gran fondo, is not recommended either. After 13 weeks, avoid sports with higher potential for traumatic injury, such as soccer and hockey.
Once you are well into your second trimester (about 20 weeks), your centre of gravity changes and your balance will be more difficult to maintain. For this reason, it is more dangerous to ride a bike outside in traffic. Horseback riding is also not recommended in pregnancy due to the risk of falling.
Normally, blood pumped by the heart goes to the working muscles during exercise. When you are pregnant, the uterus and growing baby demand much of this blood. By the third trimester, 30 per cent of the blood pumped by the heart goes to the uterus. This leaves much less blood for the muscles, and they tire much more quickly than usual. It is common to feel out of breath after simply climbing a flight of stairs. Many women fear that this means they are out of shape. This is not true! Your stamina will improve quickly after your baby is born.
Exercise and healthy eating can return you to your pre-pregnancy weight (or lower if you were overweight at the beginning of pregnancy). Maintaining a healthy weight protects you against high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease in the future.
You can return to doing light exercise as soon as you feel able. For more information, see Fit Mommy.
Women who have low risk pregnancies can and should exercise. However, every woman’s pregnancy experience is slightly different. Your approach to exercise may differ from the next woman’s approach. Please talk to your doctor if you have questions about exercising during or after pregnancy.