Although you may feel very tired and uncomfortable during pregnancy, exercise – believe it or not – can help you to feel better, keeping you fit and strong and helping to manage your weight. By exercising during your pregnancy, you will also find it easier to regain your pre-pregnancy physical fitness. There are, however, some important points to be considered to ensure safe exercise for both you and your baby.
If you were participating in a regular exercise programme before falling pregnant, then you can generally continue with a similar programme for the first trimester. If you were not physically active on a regular basis before you became pregnant, then you need to start off very slowly and some guidance may be necessary. Either way, you must check with your doctor before starting an exercise programme, as each person is different and every pregnancy is unique!
During the first trimester, one can generally continue at a similar exercise level to what you were previously doing, although the intensity level may need to drop. Keep your heart rate below 140 beats per minute! Abdominal exercises can be done as usual. Because you will probably feel more tired when you are pregnant, adjust your cardiovascular and weight training to a comfortable level.
During the second trimester, light weight exercises can still be done, although you should avoid lifting weights above your head, as this increases your already elevated blood pressure. Avoid abdominal crunches and exercises performed lying flat on your back. Prolonged time on your back causes your heavier uterus to put pressure on the vena cava, the vein that returns blood from your lower body back to your heart. This interference with blood flow can make you feel dizzy. Cardiovascular exercise should continue, although the intensity must be decreased according to how you feel. Don’t do any running, jogging or other activities that will impact on your joints. Walking, swimming and cycling are best. It is important to always remember to keep your heart rate below 140 beats per minute. Stretching and breathing exercises can also be done. Always remember, depending on how quickly you’ve grown, do what is comfortable for you.
During the third trimester, you will start to feel much more uncomfortable and tired as the baby grows. Do what you can manage comfortably during this final stage. Cardiovascular exercises – walking, cycling, and swimming – can be continued, still keeping the heart rate below 140 beats per minute. Keep exercise sessions to a maximum of 30 minutes, as the increased blood flow associated with exercise can induce contractions if prolonged. Avoid heavy weights and movements that involve changing direction quickly. During pregnancy, your body releases a hormone called relaxin, which causes the ligaments around your pelvic joint to become lax, allowing for more space for the baby to be born. Because all the joints become more lax, the risk of spraining a joint, such as the ankle, increases. Therefore, it is important to wear comfortable shoes at all times and avoid uneven surfaces that could cause falls.
Kegel exercises can be done to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which help to minimize bladder leaks, a common problem during and after pregnancy. These exercises are easy to perform and can be done anywhere and anytime.
Lower back pain is a common symptom experienced during pregnancy. Due to the development of your stomach in front, your centre of gravity shifts and it puts a lot of strain on the lower back. If your lower back muscles aren’t strong enough, you will struggle as your baby grows. A Biokineticist can provide appropriate exercises to strengthen these muscles and, therefore, manage this condition.
Tips to remember:
· Keep your heart rate below 140bpm at all times.
· If you feel out of breath, slow down.
· Wear comfortable, loose clothing with proper shoes to support your ankles.
· Exercise in the morning or evening when it is not too hot.
· Avoid jerking movements.
· Avoid lying on your back for too long.
· Exercises sitting on a big ball are usually very comfortable, but avoid bouncing.
· Listen to your body – it will tell you if you are doing too much!
Stop exercising if you experience any of the following:
· Vaginal bleeding
· Shortness of breath
Speak to your doctor before exercising again.
As I have already said, each person is different and every pregnancy is unique, so it is important to consult your doctor before starting any exercise programme! If you are struggling to start or maintain an exercise programme during pregnancy, consult a Biokineticist to assist you with safe and appropriate exercises for you and your baby.