Exercise during pregnancy

Exercise during pregnancy

by Sophia Zheng, author on The Conception Diaries Sophia Zheng 13 February 2020

Whether you were previously active or not, exercise is probably one of the first things pregnant women ask about: Is exercise safe? What kind of exercise can I do? What is an appropriate intensity?

Benefits of Exercise during Pregnancy

According to the 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy, an appropriate amount and type of exercise during pregnancy brings several benefits:

  • decreases newborn complications (such as having a very big baby);
  • provides maternal health benefits (such as lower risks of gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, C-section, urinary incontinence, depression, and excessive gestational weight gain);
  • is not associated with miscarriage, preterm birth, preterm/prelabour rupture of membranes, low birth weight, birth defects, stillbirth, neonatal death, or induction of labour.

Overall, exercise during pregnancy is a great way to make sure both you and your baby will be doing well throughout this journey.

Types of suitable exercise

The ideal exercise routine should include a combination of aerobics, resistance, stretching, and kegel exercises.

1. Aerobic exercise

Good aerobic exercises to do include swimming, riding the elliptical machine, and brisk walking. Avoid exercise that could make you fall, such as skiing and running, annd those that will get you hit in the belly, such as martial arts and basketball. It is also crucial not to exercise in a very hot climate, in order to avoid overheating.

2. Resistance training

When it comes to strength training, you may choose any format you like, but the key is not to challenge your body by lifting something much heavier than usual or pushing yourself to exhaustion. Feel free to use weights or a resistance band, although body-weight exercises are just as effective.

3. Stretching

The importance of stretching is often overlooked. Frequent stretching helps to flex and strengthen muscles, which in turn reduces the chance of injury and joint pain, both of which are very common in new mothers. Not only is it a good way to wind down after a workout, but it also prepares you for motherhood just as well as all of the other types of exercise. Pilates and yoga are also great ways to stretch while building strength and endurance, although they will need to be modified in order to be suitable for pregnancy.

4. Kegel exercise

Training your pelvic-floor muscle reduces the likelihood of urinary incontinence. You might consider working with a pelvic-floor physiotherapist to make sure you are doing it right.

Exercise Intensity

Moderate intensity is often recommended — increasing the heart rate without going out of breath. A good indicator of the right intensity is that you should still be able to talk but not sing.

However, if you were not very active before pregnancy, start with light activities, like taking a walk or strength training using water bottles or 1 to 2-pound weights. Increase the intensity slowly as you go. Even if you are not able to reach moderate intensity, light exercise is still better than being sedentary during pregnancy. Studies have been done specifically on pregnant women who were not previously active, and they showed that starting physical activity during pregnancy is safe and beneficial.

On the other hand, if you have been very active and are used to regular vigorous exercise, you could get a little more intense, depending on your comfort level. Just remember to follow your own feelings and not push yourself too hard.

Frequency and Duration

It is recommended to accumulate a minimum of 150 minutes (i.e. 2.5 hours) of moderate exercise per week, and spread it out over at least three days. The ideal duration for each session is 30 to 60 minutes, unless the intensity is relatively light. In addition, incorporate strength training at least two times per week.

Here are some examples of what your exercise schedule could look like to meet the minimum recommended amount of exercise:

  • 50 minutes, three times a week
  • 60 minutes, two times a week + 30 minutes, one time a week
  • 30 minutes, five times a week

That being said, it is better to look beyond the minimum recommendation and to exercise every day during pregnancy.

References

  1. University of Alberta, CSEP, The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, Western University, UQTR. (2019). 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy. Canada
  2. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. (2016). Exercise During Pregnancy. Victoria, Australia: College House.
  3. Harvard Medical School. (2019). The Importance of Stretching. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-stretching.

Sophia Zheng, guest author on The Conception Diaries Guest author: Sophia graduated from McGill University, and is a member of Dietitians of Canada, College of Dietitians of Ontario, and Diabetes Canada. Through years of practice, Sophia has specialized in weight loss, chronic disease prevention and management, pregnancy and breastfeeding nutrition and pre-conception health. To book a virtual consultation: sophia-zheng.com