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“For most pregnant women, I recommend thirty minutes of moderate physical activity every day or at least on most days, once the early pregnancy fatigue has worn off.”

– Dr. Alan Greene (2009, p. 103)

Doctors universally recommend that pregnant women get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. But what exactly does this mean? Moderate exercise typically means any aerobic activity that gets you moving enough that your heart beats faster and you start breathing harder. Putting yourself into this condition for at least 20-30 minutes a day has been shown to provide numerous health and psychological benefits, and when you exercise for two, you share these benefits with your baby. But this doesn’t mean that lower intensity activities have no benefit. Anything that gets you up and moving is good for you and the baby. For example, even climbing just 4 flights of stairs a day can lower your risk of pre-eclampsia.

How you approach exercise depends a lot on how active you were before, and you should adjust your exercise approach depending on your pre-pregnancy fitness and your doctor’s advice.

If exercise has been a 4-letter word

If you haven’t been in the habit of exercising, pregnancy is the perfect time to start. Just be sure to listen to your body, and follow these guidelines:

  1. Start slowly if you’re not accustomed to it, so that you don’t end up sore the next day. It’s better to be gradual and consistent than to go all out and then have to take the next few days off.

  1. If half an hour of exercise sounds too intimidating, keep in mind that you can break this apart. Three brisk 10 minute walks can get you started, and you can slowly work your way up until doing 30 minutes is a piece of cake.

  2. You can improve your activity levels simply by avoiding the tendency to sit for long periods of time. For every hour you might spend lounging around, try to get up for 5 or 10 minutes and walk around.

  3. If you are sitting down, try to stay active. Move your arms, stretch a bit, lift your legs up and down.

  4. Work activity into your everyday routine. Walk up the stairs in a building rather than taking the elevator, or park at the far end of the parking lot so that you have to walk a little further

If you’re already active

If you’ve already been an exercise junkie, you should be able to continue your normal routine, but once again, consult your doctor. The general rule is that if you’re already accustomed to high levels of physical activity, it should be safe to continue at this pace. You just don’t want to take on a new, more strenuous exercise routine or pick this time to try and push the envelope.

How much is acceptable? Studies of “high intensity” training among pregnant women have generally found no adverse effects for the baby. For example, one study followed 42 national- and international-level cyclists, marathon runners, or biathletes who had performed 5 hours of training every day. One 33-year-old elite marathon runner continued her regimen of running 66 miles a week up until 3 days before her delivery of twins. All had no problems with their pregnancy or their baby. (Pattillo, 2011) But once again, the key here is whether such routines were normal for you before.

Many active women will want to gradually taper off exercise towards the end of the second trimester and during the third, especially during the 9th month. As just discussed, some women go strong right up until delivery, but this approach isn’t for everyone, and you shouldn’t do this just for the bragging rights. Your doctor (whose job it is to exercise an abundance of precaution) may also ask that you slow things down. You’ll have to decide what feels most natural and comfortable to you while trying to act in accordance with your doctor’s advice.

Tips for exercising during pregnancy

  • Have a light, healthy snack before you get started.

  • Down it with a glass of water, and end your workout with a drink.

  • Be sure to include a warm-up period as part of the plan. You should wind up and then wind down again at the end. Stopping too abruptly can trap blood in the muscles, leading to dizziness, nausea, or faintness.

  • Be sure to wear a bra with plenty of support, since your breasts will be heavier now. Also opt for loose, breathable clothes that will stretch as you move.

  • Exercise on soft surfaces whenever availabe, such as grass or carpet. Not only does this lover the danger from an accidental slip, but soft surfaces are easiest on your body.

  • Make sure your sneakers are in good condition and still fit you right to minimize the potential for falls.

  • Be sure you’re consuming the appropriate amount of extra calories per day to account for your pregnancy and exercise; typically 100 to 300 calories per day.

  • You may start to feel pressure or soreness in different places. This is because you suddenly have more weight pushing down in strange ways. This is normal, so long as you’re not experiencing any of the symptoms described earlier in the section on exercise safety.

  • Pointing or extending the toes can lead to cramping in your calves. Instead try flexing by turning your feet up towards the face.

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