Exercise does a lot to keep you healthy and some of those benefits are also true for pregnant women.
- reduce blood pressure
- decrease cardiovascular risks like the formation of clots
- help to maintain an ideal body weight
- help to manage stable diabetes
Additional benefits specific to pregnant women include:
- Improving the labor process and delivery. “Pregnant women who exercise have shorter labor times, and faster, easier deliveries.”
- Exercise can also improve self-esteem and high self-esteem has been associated with a decrease in complaints of back aches, headaches, and fatigue.
- Exercising women will also be more conditioned for difficult breathing.
Exercise continued after delivery will help to decrease varicose veins, leg cramps, and swelling in the limbs.
A fundamental function of exercise is promoting blood flow to deliver nutrients to where they are needed and eliminating stored toxins. The metabolism of calcium will also be improved. It will ultimately lead to healthier organs, stronger connective tissue, and denser bones.
There are a lot of changes that occur to the women’s physiology in pregnancy and this warrants safety considerations for the mother and the baby. Over-stepping the limitations in pregnancy can divert blood flow away from the growing baby to provide more to the mother’s exercising muscles. This could deprive the baby of oxygen and stunt his/her growth and put the baby in distress. Exercising conservatively can appease the additional risks of membrane rupture, placental separation, premature labor, direct fetal injury, or umbilical cord entanglement. With due caution and consideration, effects on the fetus by maternal exercise does not contraindicate exercise.
These are the 7 safety guidelines:
- Heart rate needs to be less than 140 beats per minute
- Exercise intensity should be low. You should be able to speak during the exercise without your breath becoming rapid.
- Do not perform strenuous exercise for more than 15 minutes
- Starting at 5 months pregnant, avoid exercising on your back
- Avoid exercises in which you hold your breath and strain
- Be sure that you are eating enough to meet the needs of the pregnancy and of the exercise.
- Core temperature should not exceed 38 degrees Celsius/100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not overheat yourself.
You should stop the exercise immediately if you experience any of the following:
- back pain
- feeling disoriented
- extreme nausea
- marked swelling
- pubic pain
- sharp pain in the abdomen or chest
- feeling extremely hot, cold, or clammy
- uterine contractions
- any vaginal bleeding or gush or fluid from the vagina
- decrease in fetal movement
- blurry vision
- difficulty in walking
- shortness of breath
- pain or palpitations
If you have high blood pressure or heart disease, have had more than three miscarriages, or are pregnant with more than one baby, you should not exercise at all during pregnancy. If you have any pre-existing health conditions, you should consult your doctor about exercise first.
Exercise recommendations for pregnancy:
- Jogging. This is recommended if the mother jogged regularly before pregnancy.
- Walking. A safe option because it does not involve jerky movements while still helping to condition the cardiovascular system. A good brisk walk for half an hour three times a week will ensure that you are getting the benefits of exercise. Your cardiovascular system will be strengthened when worked for at least fifteen minutes.
- Cycling. This can be started during pregnancy because it is not a weight-bearing activity. A stationary bike is safer.
- Aerobics. Avoid exercises that require you to be on your back, include jerky or bouncy movements, and deep flexion and extension after the 4th month of pregnancy. Low impact aerobics is tolerated well in the third trimester. Ballroom dancing or aerobic dance are great aerobic exercises.
- Swimming. A great option. Avoid excessively cold or hot water though. Water aerobics is another option rather than swimming laps.
- Weight lifting. Light weights can be used to maintain strength as long as you are breathing properly. No holding your breath and straining. Perform with caution. If unaccustomed to this exercise, begin with just resistance against gravity first. Racquetball, squash and tennis are fairly safe. Adjust the intensity of play as the pregnancy progresses.
- Scuba diving. For experienced divers only. Do not exceed 1 ATM in pressure and limit the time to 30 minutes or less.
- Yoga. Great for relaxation. Also helps to maintain muscle tone and flexibility. Best when accompanied by some form of aerobic exercise. Do not try to do the same amount as before you were pregnant.
A variety of exercise will prevent imbalance by overworking the same muscle groups and will ensure that all muscles get a turn.
Remember: Your cardiovascular system will be strengthened if worked at least three times a week for a minimum of fifteen minutes.
Exercises to Avoid:
- All contact sports
- Horseback riding
- Water skiing
- Ice skating
Any exercise program should begin with a five-minute warm-up and aerobic programs should end with a five-minute cool-down exercise. The cool-down should include light stretching and relaxation exercises. This will help to prevent muscle stiffness after exercise and will help in bringing the heart rate and body temperature back to normal. All exercises should be performed on both sides.
Here are some exercises that are performed in the standing position that can be used to warm up or cool down:
- Shoulder rolling. To loosen the neck and shoulder muscles, bring your shoulders up to your ears, back and down again. Perform six times.
- Arm swinging. To release shoulder stiffness, increase circulation, and stretch your upper back, swing your arms from side to side by turning your upper body.
- Knee raising. To loosen the knees and pelvic joints and gently massage your internal organs, bring each knee in turn up toward your chest and hold for two seconds.
Exercises for the neck and upper back:
- Sit comfortably with your legs crossed. Slowly bring your head to the end of every position and hold for ten seconds at each position. That is, down to your chest, then back to look up at the ceiling, look over each shoulder and finally drop your head down to each shoulder. Repeat three times. This will relieve tension in the neck and upper back.
- Cat stretch. Come to your hands and knees and keep a straight back. Round your back and look toward your knees. Then relax to a flat back and look toward the ceiling. Repeat five times.
- Dog stretch. Keep your hands and heels on the floor and push your buttocks toward the ceiling. Repeat two times. This should not be performed beyond the first trimester.
Exercises for the lower back and legs:
- Butterfly. Bring the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to relax out to the sides. Gently bring your knees up and down. Then with your knees down, slowly come forward and attempt to touch your feet with your head. Slowly come back up and breathe. Repeat three times.
- Bridge. Lay on your back with your knees bent and your hands on the floor at your sides. Slowly raise your pelvis and lift your buttocks and lower part of your back off the floor. Hold for ten seconds. Then slowly come back down, bringing your buttocks down last. Repeat three times.
- Alternate leg stretch. In a seated position, spread your legs apart. Bring one foot to the inside of the opposite thigh. Face the outstretched leg and slowly bring your head to your knee and stretch your arms forward. Do not strain or bounce. Slowly come up and repeat on the other side. Do this twice.
- Squat. Squat down with feet flat on the floor, palms together in front of the chest and elbows pressing against the knees. Hold for 20 seconds while breathing normally. Then sit back on your buttocks and relax your legs. Repeat once. Work up to holding the squat for one minute.
- Sit-ups. In a seated position, have your knees bent with your arms extended over your knees. Slowly roll back one vertebra at a time until the shoulders recline. Then sit up. Repeat three times and work up to repeat ten times.
- Alternate Leg Raise. Lay down and put your hands beneath your low back. Without straining, bring your leg up toward your head and hold for 20 seconds with normal breathing. Then lower your leg slowly while exhaling. Repeat with the opposite leg. If you have lower back discomfort or pain, bend the opposite leg with your foot on the floor. Repeat three times on each side.
- Pelvic Floor Exercises The pelvic floor supports the bladder, uterus, and rectum. These supporting muscles can be strained during pregnancy and child birth. Kegel exercises work these muscles and can be done at any time. Practice stopping your urine flow midstream during each urination. Once you have mastered the urine stoppage midstream, you will know how to contract the muscles anytime not just during urination.
Reference: Pediatric Chiropractic. Anrig, Plaugher. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1998 ISBN 10: 0683001361 / ISBN 13: 9780683001365.