10 Reasons Pregnant Women Should Exercise UPDATED

This blog post has been updated to reflect the 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy.

1. Energy
One of the best ways to increase energy levels is to get moving.  Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently.  This results in more energy for everyday tasks.  

2. Comfort
Most pregnancy aches and pains come from muscular imbalances, pressure of the growing uterus and a shifting of the spine and pelvis.  Regular exercise, especially muscular endurance, prenatal specific core work and stretching can help prevent and reduce these discomforts.

3. Improved Pelvic Floor Health
Regular pelvic floor work, giving equal focus to the contraction and the release, may help with urinary incontinence, pelvic pain, low back pain and even labour.

4. Decreased Digestive Discomforts
Regular exercise improved circulation, reducing nausea and constipation.

5. Mental Health
Exercise is a safe and accessible way to prevent and manage depression and anxiety.  It’s also a fantastic stress buster.

6. Healthy Weight Gain
Healthy weight gain helps to prevent pregnancy complications such a gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and an increase in labour interventions.  

7. Prevention of Gestational Diabetes, Gestational Hypertension and Preeclampsia
Regular cardiovascular exercise helps to prevent and manage gestational diabetes and maintain healthy blood pressure. This reduces the incidence of labour interventions and cesarean birth. 

8. Prevention of Swelling, Varicose Veins and Hemorrhoids
Regular cardiovascular exercise promotes healthy circulation.

9. Stamina for Labour and Parenting
Ask any woman who has gone through labour and she will tell you that it was one of the most physically intense endeavors she has ever experienced.  Ask any parent of young children and they will assure you that parenting is seriously physical work.  Fact: Being strong, fit and healthy will help make parenting more manageable.

10. Decreased chance of caesarean birth, instrumental delivery, newborn complications

Now let’s talk about exercising safely through your pregnancy.

PEAM 2019 GDM, high BP, preeclampsia.png


How to Exercise Safely Through Your Pregnancy UPDATED

This blog post has been updated to reflect the 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity.

Cardiovascular Exercise and Resistance Training
”All women without contraindication should be physically active throughout pregnancy. Pregnant women should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week to achieve clinically meaningful health benefits and reductions in pregnancy complications. Physical activity should be accumulated over a minimum of three days per week; however, being active every day is encouraged.”(1)

Moderate-intensity means you can talk but not sing. “Pregnant women should incorporate a variety of aerobic and resistance training activities to achieve greater benefits.”(2) We recommend focusing on muscular endurance, which is usually defined at 2-3 sets of 12-20 repetition with a moderate resistance.

Choose activities that you enjoy, are comfortable and do not put you in danger of falling, colliding with others, projectiles, high altitudes or decompression (I.E. scuba diving).  Some examples are low impact aerobics class, power walking, stationary cycling, swimming, aquatic fitness. If you were already doing moderate to high impact exercise like running, it does not cause you pain, and you are following the guidelines above, then it should be safe to continue. We recommend discussing this with your healthcare provider.

Core Exercises
Pregnant women need strong core muscles in order to prevent pain, injury and to maintain good posture and function.  “Pelvic floor muscles training (PMFT) may be performed on a daily basis to reduce the risk of urinary incontinence. Instruction on proper technique is recommended to obtain optimal benefits.” (3) Seek out a prenatal specific fitness class or personal trainer so they can help you with your technique.

“Pregnant women who experience light-headedness, nausea or feel unwell when they exercise flat on their back should modify their exercise position to avoid the supine position.” (4)

If you have Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation), or are not sure if you have one, please read this important article.  Certain core exercises can actually make it worse.

Flexibility
Maintaining healthy flexibility and mobility can prevent pain and injury during pregnancy.  Pregnant women should stretch gently after each workout and consider adding prenatal yoga to their routine.  Stretches for the chest and front of the shoulders can help with preventing and correcting excessive kyphosis (rounding forward of the back and forward position of the chin) and internal rotation of the shoulders, both common pregnancy posture challenges.  Excessive lordosis, when the growing uterus pulls the pelvis forward, creating an excessive inward curve of the lower back, is common during pregnancy and leads to low back pain. Stretches for the low back, hip flexors, quadriceps, and hamstrings can help.

During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin softens connective tissue to make room for your growing baby. It is postulated that this may make pregnant women more vulnerable to overstretching.  For this reason many healthcare providers recommend gentle stretching.

To view the full joint CSPE-SOGC guidelines click here.

(1), (2), (3), (4) 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy

Why Exercising in Your 2nd Trimester is Awesome

For most women (sorry if you are not most women), the 2nd trimester is a time of renewed energy.  Nausea usually subsides or at least only rears its ugly head when blood sugar is low.  In fact, the 2nd trimester is when most women feel up to easing back into a fitness routine.

This is the ideal time to solidify healthy habits so you can enjoy the many benefits of an active pregnancy throughout your pregnancy and beyond.

Here are just a few of the benefits of exercise during your 2nd trimester.

Prevent Gestational Diabetes
Regular exercise helps to regulate blood glucose levels and maintain a healthy pregnancy weight.  These are two of the gestational diabetes risk factors that we can control.  

Prepare Your Core
Your growing uterus puts pressure on your abdominal wall, pelvic floor and connective tissues. Now is the time to connect with and strengthen your deep core muscles like your pelvic floor and transverses abdominals.  Your 3rd trimester self will thank you.

Protect your back
As your uterus gets heavier it pulls your pelvis forward increasing the curve in your lower back.  Having a strong core (see above) helps to take the strain off your back as you progress through your pregnancy.  Strengthening your glutes, and stretching your low back and hip flexors will help as well.

 

Accolades for Exercise in the 1st Trimester

Did you know that the SOGC recommends that all healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies do both cardio and muscular conditioning exercises throughout each trimester?  It’s true! You can read their guidelines here.

So let’s talk about the benefits of exercise during the first trimester.

More energy
Many women report feeling extra fatigued during the first trimester.  No wonder! So much is happening during these 12 weeks.  During the first trimester, your baby grows faster than at any other time. By 12 weeks, your baby's bones, muscles and all the organs of the body have formed. All that embryonic development is taxing on mom’s body.

Here’s the good news: Many women find that exercise actually increases their energy. This is even more so if the exercise is outdoors and/or with others.  Try going for a light to moderate walk outside and test the waters.  How does it make you feel? If you find your energy improving, then take it up a notch to a brisk walk.
 
Less Nausea
Ok.  So we understand that there is nausea….and there is NAUSEA.  We are not suggesting you head out for a power walk with your barf bucket.   But lets say you have light nausea.  You might find that exercise helps to prevent, reduce and even curb the nausea all together.

Prepare your body
Though you may have been feeling tired and or nauseous, the major physical changes of pregnancy are yet to come.   Maintaining or gently improving your fitness levels now, will help you better deal with postural changes and muscular imbalances of the 2nd and 3rd trimester. 

Stress management
When do I tell my boss? What if I have a miscarriage? Where am I going to put a baby in my 600 square foot condo?  Confirmation of pregnancy, planned or not, can be a very stressful time.  Many women keep their pregnancies private for the first 3 months.  This means they often have to cope with this stress on their own.  Exercise is a proven stress buster.  Even more so if exercising with a like group or exercising outdoors.  

Safety First
Ready to get moving? Awesome.  Please be sure to listen to your body and talk to your healthcare provider before resuming or beginning a fitness program.  We also recommend reviewing the guidelines for exercise during pregnancy.

 

How to Exercise Safely Through Your Pregnancy

Canadians are fortunate in that the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) and the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology (CSEP) have created joint guidelines for exercising during pregnancy.  These guidelines are created by a committee and are research-based.  CSEP then used this information to create the PARmed-X for Pregnancy form.  This is a medical clearance form that contains helpful information about prenatal fitness guidelines.

Cardiovascular Exercise
Pregnant women are encouraged to do cardiovascular exercise for up to 30 minutes up to 4 days a week.  Beginners should start with 15 minutes and gradually work towards 30 minutes.  These times to not include warm-up or cool-down.  For intensity, the PARmed-X for Pregnancy recommends a combination of 2 of the following methods: talk test, rate of perceived exertion and heart rate check. 

Choose activities that you enjoy, are comfortable and do not put you in danger of falling, colliding with others, projectiles, high altitudes or decompression (I.E. scuba diving).  If you are used to high impact activities like running, and it still feels good, you can continue to run up to 30 minutes up to 4 days a week.  If you are not, stick to low impact cardiovascular activities such as power walking, low impact aerobics and stationary cycling.

Strength Training
The SOGC and CSEP recommend strength training for all healthy pregnant women with normal pregnancies.  The focus should be on muscular endurance.  In other words, choose a resistance that allows you to do 2-3 sets of 10-16 repetitions with good form.  Aim to strength train 3 days a week and choose exercises that you enjoy and are comfortable.  After 4 months (16 weeks) of pregnancy, avoid exercising flat on your back.  If you have an abdominal separation, or are not sure if you have one, please read this important article.  Certain exercises can actually make it worse.

Core Exercises
Pregnant women need strong core muscles in order to prevent pain, injury and to maintain good posture and function.  The core includes deep muscles such as the pelvic floor (Kegel muscles) and transversus abdmoninals (corset muscles) as well as the more superficial muscles like the rectus abdominals (6 pack), obliques (waist) and erector spinae (back). Aim to do deep core exercises most days of the week and superficial core exercises 3-4 days a week. 

After 4 months (16 weeks) of pregnancy, avoid exercising flat on your back.  If you have Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation), or are not sure if you have one, please read this important article.  Certain core exercises can actually make it worse.

Flexibility
Maintaining healthy flexibility and mobility can prevent pain and injury during pregnancy.  Pregnant women should stretch after each workout.  Stretches for the chest and front of the shoulders can help with preventing and correcting excessive kyphosis (rounding forward of the back and forward position of the chin), a common complaint of pregnancy.  Stretches for the low back, hip flexors, quadriceps and hamstrings can help with preventing excessive lordosis (pelvis tipping forward creating a very large inward curve at the low back area).  Since low back pain is the number one complaint of pregnancy, this is important information.

It is postulated that one of the hormones of pregnancy, relaxin, may make pregnant women more vulnerable to overstretching.  For this reason many healthcare providers recommend gentle stretching.

To view the full joint CSPE-SOGC guidelines click here.

Are you active enough this pregnancy?  Take the Quiz.

10 Reasons Pregnant Women Should Exercise

1. Energy
One of the best ways to increase energy levels is to get moving.  Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently.  This results in more energy for everyday tasks.  

2. Comfort
Most pregnancy aches and pains come from muscular imbalances, pressure of the growing uterus and a shifting of the spine and pelvis.  Regular exercise, especially muscular endurance, prenatal specific core work and stretching can help prevent and reduce these discomforts.

3. Injury Prevention
Just like a well maintained car is less likely to breakdown, so is a fit and healthy body.  Many woman complain of feeling somewhat clumsy during pregnancy.  Adding muscular endurance, prenatal specific core work and balance exercises to your routine can help increase coordination.

4. Healthy Weight Gain
Healthy weight gain helps to prevent pregnancy complications such a gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and an increase in labour interventions.  

5. Healthy Blood Pressure
Cardiovascular exercise helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

6. Prevention of Gestational Diabetes
Regular cardiovascular exercise helps to prevent and manage gestational diabetes. This reduces the incidence of labour interventions and cesarean birth.  It also reduces the likelihood of the mother and child developing Type II Diabetes later in life.

7. Mental Health
Exercise is a safe, accessible and noninvasive way to prevent and manage depression and anxiety.  

8. Stamina for Labour and Parenting
Ask any woman who has gone through labour and she will tell you that it was one of the most physically intense endeavors she has ever experienced.  Ask any parent of young children and they will assure you that parenting is seriously physical work.  Fact: Being strong, fit and healthy will help make parenting more manageable.

9. Stress Reduction
AS beautiful and wonderful as pregnancy is, it also brings stressors such as medical tests, relationship tension, financial worries and more.  Exercise is a proven tool for reducing stress.

10. Role Modeling
Pregnant women have a unique opportunity to set the stage for an active family.  Our 2015 Pregnancy & Exercise Awareness Month theme is Be a Role Model.  Be sure to follow us on Facebook as we illustrate just how important being an active parent is for our children.

Now let’s talk about exercising safely through your pregnancy.