Low-impact exercise during pregnancy

Does the thought of exercising with a human being growing inside of your belly make you question whether the spin class or morning swim you’ve done for years is still safe? What about the idea of starting an exercise program in order to stay active and healthy throughout your pregnancy? If fitness is something you would like to include in your daily routine for the next nine months, but you’re not sure if you should, then read on for expert ideas on the best ways to get moving, and guidelines to keep you safe while sweating it out.

Exercise guidelines during pregnancy

Staying active while pregnant is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your growing baby. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, if you are healthy and your pregnancy is normal, it is safe to continue or start most types of exercise, but you may need to make a few changes.

Some of those changes include making a shift from from high-intensity workouts to moderate or low intensity, avoiding jerky or bouncing motions, avoiding standing still or lying flat on your back as much as possible, paying attention to your balance (since you’re at a greater risk of falling), avoiding becoming overheated, and decreasing your intensity or stopping the activity if you are experiencing a shortness of breath. The effect these changes have on your exercise will increase as your belly grows.

And as far as the amount of exercise you should aim for each week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that pregnant women get at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. And while 150 minutes sounds like a lot of time, if you break it up into daily workouts of 20-30 minutes each, or even a few 10-minute walks a day, you’d be surprised how easy it is to reach this goal.

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy

Exercising during pregnancy has numerous physical benefits including a decrease in backaches, easing constipation, the possibility of a decrease of the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean delivery, promoting a healthy weight, and improving overall fitness – and the benefits don’t end there. The mental health of a mom-to-be is just as important as her physical health, and exercise can help with regulating mood and mental clarity. Additionally, it can reduce stress and anxiety, boost confidence, increases your ability to relax, helps you sleep better, and make you feel happier by releasing endorphins.  

Warning signs to discontinue exercise

The ACOG recommends ending exercise and calling your obstetrician or other medical professional if you experience any of the following symptoms: bleeding from the vagina, feeling dizzy or faint, shortness of breath before starting exercise, chest pain, headache, muscle weakness, calf pain or swelling, regular/painful contractions of the uterus, and fluid leaking from the vagina.  

Ideas to stay active

  • Prenatal yoga and prenatal pilates: Yoga and pilates teach breathing, encourage stretching, and help reduce stress. If at all possible, opt for classes that are designed specifically for pregnant women. These classes often teach modified poses that accommodate a pregnant woman’s growing body and shifting balance.
  • Swimming: Swimming is a great low-impact activity for women who enjoy being in the water, and one that is often recommended if other forms of exercise are causing pain or discomfort. Swimming laps, walking the lazy river, or taking a water aerobics class are all great ways to participate in a full-body workout with little to no impact on your joints.
  • Elliptical and stationary bike: These machines both offer full range of motion for your legs and a great cardio workout for moms-to-be, without the heavy impact that comes with running on the pavement or treadmill. Note that they may become more difficult to perform as you get further into the third trimester.
  • Walking: Walking is one of the best low-impact activities that is proven to be easy on the joints and muscles, and appropriate for all fitness levels. If you would like to vary the intensity, consider walking at a slower pace for a lighter workout or faster pace if you’re already fit. You can also choose a flat terrain to walk on for a gentler workout or include hills for a more vigorous walk.
  • Body weight and light strength moves: Continuing a weight lifting and body strengthening program can be one of the best ways to stay strong and fit throughout your pregnancy. The key here is to lighten the weights and not strain too much. Beginners might want to consider bodyweight only exercises, which are a safer option, and easier to master if you have minimal experience with exercise. Moves such as squats (bodyweight), push-ups against the wall, rows, and arm exercises are a few examples of exercises that are safe to keep doing.

About the author:
Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer focusing on parenting, health, and wellness. She is passionate about all things fitness and health and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son.  

  • Committee on Obstetric Practice. “Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period.” American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  Committee Opinion 650. December 2015. Retrieved July 12 2017. https://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Physical-Activity-and-Exercise-During-Pregnancy-and-the-Postpartum-Period.
  • “Physical Activity Basics: Healthy Pregnant or Postpartum Women.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, June 4 2015. Retrieved July 11 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pregnancy/index.htm. 
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