Can you start exercising
for the first time when you're pregnant—even if you're totally out of shape?
Yes! In fact, studies report that beginners can safely reap the benefits from exercise as long as they take it easy, appropriately warm up and cool down, keep their heart rates within a safe range, and have appropriate supervision for at least the first few sessions. Naturally, fitness novices must get the okay from their docs before jumping in.
Most obstetricians today are keen on the idea of pregnant women exercising their way to the delivery room—within the limits of common sense, of course. However, because certain medical instances rule out exercise, and nobody knows you better medically than your obstetrician, never begin exercising without first discussing it with your personal physician.
What Do the Experts Say?
For healthy pregnant women who have no additional risk factors, ACOG recommends the following:
- During pregnancy, women can continue to exercise and derive health benefits even from mild to moderate exercise routines. Regular exercise—at least three times per week—is preferable to intermittent activity.
- Avoid exercise in the supine position (lying on your back) after the first trimester. This position can decrease the cardiac output (blood flow) to the uterus. Also avoid prolonged periods of motionless standing.
- Pregnant women have less oxygen available for aerobic activity and therefore should not expect to be able to do what they did pre-pregnancy. Pay close attention to your body, and modify your exercise intensity according to how you feel. Always stop exercising when you feel fatigued and never push your body to exhaustion.
- Your changing size, shape, and weight can make certain exercises difficult. Avoid activities that can throw off your balance and possibly cause you to fall. Further, avoid any exercise with the potential for even mild abdominal trauma.
- Pregnancy requires an additional 300 calories a day. Thus, women who exercise during pregnancy should be particularly careful to eat an adequate diet.
- Pregnant women who exercise in the first trimester should stay cool by drinking plenty of water, wearing appropriate clothing, and avoiding very humid or hot environments.
- Resume your pre-pregnancy exercise routines gradually after giving birth. Many of the physical changes that take place during pregnancy persist for four to six weeks.
Although some women might be able to continue with their regular weight-bearing exercises at the same intensity as they did pre-pregnancy, non–weight-bearing exercises such as swimming and biking might be easier to do and present less risk of injury.
Food for Thought
Pick up Fit Pregnancy magazine and get the latest scoop on keeping fit while you're expecting. From the folks over at Shape magazine, it hits the newsstands three to four times each year.
You should not exercise during pregnancy if you have any of the following conditions:
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Preterm rupture of membranes
- Preterm labor during the prior or current pregnancy
- Incompetent cervix/cerclage (a surgical procedure to close the cervix to keep the fetus intact in utero)
- Persistent second- or third-trimester bleeding
- Intrauterine growth retardation
In addition, women with certain other medical or obstetric conditions, including chronic hypertension or active thyroid, cardiac, vascular, or pulmonary disease, should be evaluated carefully in order to determine whether an exercise program is appropriate.