Regular physical activity and exercise in all phases of life, including pregnancy, promotes health benefits. Exercise in pregnancy is associated with minimal risks and has been shown to benefit most women. In pregnancy, physical inactivity and excessive weight gain are recognised as independent risk factors for maternal obesity and pregnancy related complications. So, women are encouraged to start or continue exercising in pregnancy to enjoy the benefits it brings, stay in shape, and prepare for labour and delivery.
Why exercise during pregnancy?
Regular exercise can reduce back aches, constipation, bloating and swelling. It boosts your mood, energy levels and helps to sleep better. It prevents excessive weight gain, promotes muscle tone, strength and endurance.
Exercise helps maintain cardiovascular fitness, improves balance and posture while helping to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. It also prevents and controls high blood pressure and Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM).
Exercise reduces the length of labour and reduces delivery complications. It promotes a higher incidence of vaginal delivery and reduces caesarean birth/operative delivery. It also helps in postnatal recovery and reduces urinary incontinence.
Pacing exercise during pregnancy
For most pregnant women, at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise is recommended on most days of the week. Depending on the fitness level and habit of exercising before pregnancy, they can continue to work out at the same level while pregnant as long as they feel comfortable and their doctor approves.
But those who were sedentary before pregnancy should follow a gradual progression of exercises. It is recommended to begin with as little as 10 minutes of activity per day and build up to 15 minutes, then 20 minutes and so on until you reach at least 30 minutes a day.
Dr Sneha Maddukuri, Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Rainbow Childrenâ€™s Hospital & BirthRight by Rainbow Hospitals, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh
What exercises are best during pregnancy?
Overexertion may result in overheating which can affect the development of the baby. So exercise safely at moderate intensity. Low impact exercises are safe and beneficial.
Walking is a great exercise for beginners. It provides moderate aerobic condition with minimal stress on joints. Other cardio-based exercises like swimming, stationary cycling, cross trainer, aqua aerobics and low impact aerobics are good too.
Resistance exercises with relatively lower weights/resistance bands, stretching exercises, yoga and pelvic floor muscle training are great exercises that can be done during pregnancy.
Exercise in pregnancy is not associated with miscarriage, stillbirths, neonatal deaths, pre-term births, low birth weight or other birth complications.
Advice/tips for exercising during pregnancy
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercises over a week but donâ€™t exhaust yourself. Stop and rest if you feel hot and drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Wear loose and breathable clothing, keep your heart rate below 150 bpm, and remember to warm up, stretch and cool down without fail.
Intense exercise increases oxygen and blood flow to muscles and away from the uterus. So do not exercise for more than 60 minutes at a time.
What not to do
- Avoid lying on your back for more than 10 minutes
- Avoid high impact exercises or activities that may result in heavy fall
- Avoid spas, saunas, solariums or exercising in hot conditions
- Avoid exercising at higher altitude
- Avoid contact sports
Listen to your body. If you experience any unusual symptoms like excessive shortness of breath, chest pain, vaginal bleeding/fluid leakage from vagina, abdominal/pelvic pain, palpitations, dizziness, excessive fatigue or calf swelling, please donâ€™t exercise further and get medical help immediately.
If you have any medical problems or morbid obesity (BMI>40), please seek advice from healthcare professionals before beginning an exercise regime. For women who have obstetric or medical comorbidities, exercise regimes are customised accordingly.
Letâ€™s opt for a healthy choice
Regular exercise can help cope with the physical changes of pregnancy and build stamina for the challenges ahead. Continue to exercise during pregnancy to enjoy benefits. If you havenâ€™t been exercising, use pregnancy as your motivation to begin.
This article was written by Dr Sneha Maddukuri, Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Rainbow Childrenâ€™s Hospital & BirthRight by Rainbow Hospitals, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh and published in partnership with Rainbow Hospital.