by Ann Laurence
Exercising throughout your pregnancy is a good way to improve and maintain your health, and the health of your baby. Exercise has been shown to increase cardiovascular endurance, improve well-being, enhance your mood enhancement, aid in digestion and sleep and can help prepare your body for labor and birth. But with a baby on board, are there precautions you need to take?
“I believe the real hazard is inactivity,” says Paul Fetters, owner of three Training Spot Gyms in Orange County with two locations in Huntington Beach and a new gym in Costa Mesa. “Though no one recommends gut-busting sprints for pregnant women, you can maintain your program as long as your body and your doctor give you the okay. If there are no complications, women can continue to exercise at a higher level with closer medical supervision.”
Paul adds that “early in pregnancy, you want to make sure not to elevating your core body temperature, so stay hydrated, don’t exercise outdoors in the heat of the day and avoid huffing and puffing so hard that you can’t speak.”
Your baby is completely insulated and safe; the only concern is over-heating the core temperature of the body or elevating your heart rate beyond 65% – 70% of your maximum heart rate.
“Doing crunches or other exercises on your back is a no-no after the first trimester,” says Paul. “Your growing uterus can compress the vena cava – the major vessel that returns blood to your heart – potentially reducing blood flow and making you feel dizzy or nauseated.”
Excellent activities to consider for your pregnancy are those such as swimming, walking, pilates and yoga.
“For moms-to-be, a pilates or yoga practice can contribute to an overall healthier pregnancy and birth experience, by using gentle exercises and poses that are designed to strengthen, add flexibility and stamina,” says Nicole Howard, coowner of the San Juan Capistrano-based Align Pilates. “According to the Mayo Clinic a 2012 study found that prenatal yoga can help to prevent complications during pregnancy, and those who practiced for one hour, three times a week were less likely to have low birth weight babies, pregnancy related diabetes and high blood pressure. The benefits are endless, so get that baby bump on the mat for an overall healthier pregnancy experience.”
Howards adds that changes in posture and weight distribution as pregnancy continues can result in lost of balance, low back/pelvis pain, fluid retention, leg cramps, and varicose veins. Yoga and pilates naturally address these issues. A strengthened core combats low back pain, and the movement of legs and hips helps elevate many of not so fun side effects of pregnancy. And a strong core is crucial in pushing during delivery.
In pilates and yoga learning to breathe is a key focus in class. Breathing is highly beneficial for pregnancy and labor. Good air exchange is important for the health of the mom and baby as it grows. And as the baby grows stiffness in the upperback and ribs can result in shallow breaths. Many exercises help open up this area, releasing tension. Breathing is also an important aid during labor.
Swimming uses many of the large and small muscle groups in your body, and can help to take pressure off your back and limbs that may be sore and tired. Walking is another great exercise that can be continued throughout your pregnancy, but ensure that you wear high-quality supportive shoes, and keep an eye on your water intake if you are walking in the sun.
Yoga has been shown to help to improve flexibility and muscle tone, as well as helping mothers to feel calm and relaxed in their pregnancy. While yoga is a fantastic exercise for pregnant women, ensure that you either take a pregnancy yoga class, or tell your regular yoga instructor that you are pregnant so that poses can be modified for you.
“The key to any good exercise program is a variety of activities, with cardiovascular endurance, strength and flexibility components,” says Paul. “Keep doing what you love, but try to introduce one additional component—like using the elliptical machine or swimming—in case you need another option later on in pregnancy.”