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Exercise During Pregnancy | Workout and Fitness Tips

yoga, exercise, yoga types, tips, pregnancy
Doing yoga when you're pregnant helps maintain muscle tone and flexibility.
Credit: Oleg Malyshev | Shutterstock

Exercise and fitness are an important part of a healthy pregnancy. In addition to being good for your health, and the baby's, exercise can help alleviate many of the negative symptoms associated with pregnancy. Exercise releases endorphins, making you feel naturally happy and relaxed. You may be wondering how it's possible to exercise, because pregnant women are often exhausted, but regular exercise can help boost your energy. Your energy levels will be up, and your stress will be down.

Exercise can help relieve the lower backaches often associated with pregnancy. Toned muscles can help improve your posture and reduce the tension in your back. Exercise also activates the lubricating fluid in your joints, which prevents wear and tear. Your joints have already loosened thanks to the hormonal changes of pregnancy, and exercise can help keep them healthy.

Exercise also reduces the constipation that so many pregnant women suffer from. Diet changes may need to be done as well, but the exercise accelerates intestinal movement, helping keep you regular. The loss of stress and anxiety can also help with constipation, as well as numerous other health benefits. Your blood pressure will be better and you'll sleep better, too.

Though many women already experience the pregnancy "glow," exercise increases blood flow to the skin, improving the glow even more. You'll feel more fit as well, and be better prepared for the birthing process. Strong muscles and a strong cardiovascular system can really improve the labor and delivery process. After the baby is born, it will be easier to regain your pre-pregnancy body more quickly.

Types of safe pregnancy exercise

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends at least 30 minutes worth of exercise a day for most days of the week. The idea is to get the heart pumping, keep the muscles loose, and manage weight gain.

To improve your cardiovascular health, consider walking, swimming, low-impact aerobics or dancing. Walking can be done safely for all nine months, and costs nothing besides a pair of walking shoes. Many gyms offer aerobics classes for pregnant women, so you can find a class full of women who can relate. Dancing can be done in a class or through a DVD, but keep away from dance styles that require overexertion. Avoid anything requiring bouncing or jarring movement.

For flexibility and strength, yoga, stretching and weight training are great, when done safely. Yoga keeps muscle tone and flexibility, as does stretching. Weight lifting is a bit trickier, and you may need to keep the weights at a low number. Use good technique and take the necessary precautions. Added to a cardiovascular workout, these activities can help keep your muscles toned and strengthened.

If you played sports before pregnancy, it's a good idea to avoid them. Any sport that risks sudden falls or contact can be dangerous for the baby, so consider that when choosing an exercise regimen.

Tips for exercise

KidsHealth recommends coming up with a good exercise plan with your healthcare provider. Some medical conditions prohibit exercise during pregnancy, like preeclampsia or placenta previa. You and your healthcare provider can find the right balance of diet and exercise to ensure your safety, as well as the baby's safety.

Even if you didn't exercise before you became pregnant, it's never too late to start. The risks of exercise during pregnancy are very low, but you also don't want to overdo it. A good rule of thumb is that if you are exercising and are too winded to keep up a conversation, then you are pushing too hard. Don't exercise outdoors when it's too humid or hot. You don't want the baby to become overheated. 

Stay hydrated while working out. Drinking fluids is important when you're pregnant, and especially so when you're working out. Try dividing your weight in half and drink that much in fluid ounces each day. During the workout, consume fluids an hour before the workout and continue hydrating every 15 minutes.

Warming up and cooling down are important aspects of a pregnancy workout. Six to 15 minutes of a warm-up helps the muscles function optimally, reducing the chance of injury. Warm-ups also help the blood vessels dilate and contract, allowing you to work out longer without getting winded. Cool-downs gradually decrease the heart rate in a healthy way, and are a necessary part of a workout.

Most importantly, listen to your body. It will tell you when you need to stop. As the baby grows, your center of gravity may change, increasing the chance of you losing your balance. This is especially common in the third trimester, so make sure you are aware and alter your exercise regimen accordingly.

If you feel fatigue, dizziness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, back or pelvic pain, it's time to stop. If the symptoms are extreme, or if you experience vaginal bleeding, chest pain, calf pain or swelling or contractions, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends contacting your health care provider.

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