Pregnancy is sometimes perceived as a period of time when women are predominantly expected to rest, sit idly and relax. But during pregnancy (as long as it is a healthy pregnancy) healthy nutrition and exercise are also a significant and important part of a healthier pregnancy, and moreover, pregnancy can be an opportunity to quit unhealthy habits (like smoking) and start a new and healthier routine.
Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
Following recommendations of the Ministry of Health as well as those of the leading American Mayo Clinic Medical Center and the World Health Organization (WHO), exercising during pregnancy can help to:
- Reduced risk for pre-eclampsia
- Gestational hypertension
- Reduce the risk of getting gestational diabetes
- Reduced risk for complications in birth and in newborns
- Reduce back pain, constipation and bloating
- Reduced risk for postpartum depression
- Maintenance of normal weight gain during pregnancy
- Raise overall energy
- Improve sleep quality
- Improve endurance and muscle strength
Before you start exercising, consult your general practitioner that exercising is safe for you; there are some medical conditions that will prevent you from doing so.
What is the recommended amount of time of physical activity?
Pregnant women, for whom there are no contraindications to physical activity, are advised to dedicate at least 30 minutes a day (150 minutes a week) to physical activity in mild intensity, and are encouraged to combine various aerobic activities and strength workout.
- In most cases, women can continue with the same physical activity they practiced before pregnancy.
- Walking is great for beginners; it gradually improves aerobic abilities while applying minimal pressure on joints. Additional recommended types of physical activity include swimming, moderate aerobic exercises and cycling (stationary).
- It is important to also integrate power training exercises into the physical activity regimen.
- It is recommended to exercise the pelvic floor muscles on a daily basis, in order to reduce the risk for urinary incontinence after delivery.
How should you begin?
If you haven't exercised for a long time: You should start small with small doses of moderate aerobic training and gradually increase training sessions' frequency, intensity and duration.
If you were active before your pregnancy (even if you were engaged in high intensity exercise): You may and should resume your training regiment, as long as your primary care physician approves it.
What you should avoid
- Exercise in an environment with very high temperature, especially if the high temperature is accompanied by high humidity
- Exercises that involve physical contact, high risk for falling or activities that may restrict your oxygen saturation levels (such as physical activity in high altitude).
- After your first trimester, avoid exercises in lying down exercises.
In any case where you are not certain that this sort of activity is suitable in your condition – consult your primary care physician.
Tips for success
Drink plenty of water: Before, during and after training.
Start small: there is no need to rush and subscribe to the gym or purchase shiny new sports clothes. Try a daily walk in the neighborhood, like walking to the grocery store and back (a few times). It is recommended to stop using the elevator and start using the stairs. Bear in mind that every minute counts during pregnancy too! You can “accumulate” physical activity minutes throughout the day.
Find a partner: physical activity can be more interesting and enjoyable with a friend or family member.
Perhaps exercise in a group? There are different exercise groups for working out or yoga which are adapted for pregnant women.
And most importantly, listen to your body: as important as it is to exercise, it is also important to listen to your body. If you feel any discomfort or experience any symptoms that worry you, stop exercising immediately and contact your general practitioner.
Physical activity during pregnancy, Ministry of Health website (Hebrew)
Recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) for physical activity for pregnant and postnatal women
Advice and information regarding risks during pregnancy, Ministry of Health website (Hebrew)
Article: Physical Activity and Pregnancy, from the European Journal of Physical Therapy