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Pre-Natal Fitness: Part 1

By Bette Williams, RN, BSN, CCE, CPFI, CIME, CBC

We all know we should exercise. It builds muscle, burns fat, strengthens bones, enhances cardiovascular endurance, reduces stress, and improves self-image. But in our super-hectic, 21st century lives, it’s easy to find excuses to leave exercise until “later” – “Once things calm down at work, I’ll start at the gym again.” “When the weather gets better, I’ll go for a walk.” “After the holidays, I’ll get back into shape.” Pregnant women, however, have a whole other host of excuses at their disposal. Upset stomach. Back pain. Leg cramps. Tired. But the truth is that exercise is key to alleviating the common pregnancy ailments that often keep you from exercising in the first place.

According to the book Exercising Though Your Pregnancy by James Clapp, women who exercise throughout pregnancy will gain less weight, have shorter labors, and recover more quickly postpartum. Pregnant exercisers also experience fewer maternal discomforts, such as insomnia, fatigue, back pain, constipation, swollen ankles and legs, leg cramps, nausea, and varicose veins. To top it off, the healthier you are, the healthier your baby will be. It’s the ultimate win-win situation.

However, it’s important to realize that you cannot approach exercise the same way you did before you became pregnant. Considerations need to be made for your changing center of gravity and loosened pelvic muscles, both of which can contribute to injuries and falls. In addition, the natural increases in heart rate and body temperature caused by pregnancy make it imperative to avoid over-exertion. But by following a few simple guidelines, you can safely enjoy the benefits of exercise until the very last day of your pregnancy (of course, with the advice of your doctor).

The number one thing to remember when exercising during pregnancy is the “Talk Test.” If you are so out of breath that you cannot carry on a conversation during exercise, you need to decrease the intensity of your activity. Other signs of over-exertion to look for are excessively red face, chest pains or palpitations, abnormal pain or discomfort, severe headache, and excessive perspiration. If you experience any of these symptoms, slow down, catch your breath, and relax. If the symptoms do not go away after you have had a chance to cool down, contact your doctor.

Your exercise program should include mild to moderate intensity stretching, strengthening, and cardiovascular components, and should be done at least 3 days a week for 30 minutes. A regular exercise schedule is preferable to an erratic one. Yes, your days are busy, but irregular bouts of exercise increase the chance that you will do something for which your body is not prepared, resulting in injury. Block out your exercise time as “Me Time” – inform your partner, friends, and family of your schedule if you need to. Schedule everything else around it if possible. You’re exercising for two now, so stick to it.

Because of the fall risks I mentioned earlier, plus common pregnancy complaints of back and leg pain, non-weight bearing activities (such as swimming and riding a stationary bike) are valuable activities for the mother-to-be; they carry the least risk of injury and help to alleviate the strain of so much weight on the body. Focus on good posture while exercising. This will help to strengthen your back, pelvic, and abdominal muscles, and allow you to fully utilize your lung capacity. And of course, high-impact activities and any activities that carry a risk of injury to your abdomen (such as kickboxing, rock climbing, hockey, scuba diving, and snowboarding, to name a few) should be avoided at all costs.

Beyond adhering to these precautions, just use common sense when exercising during pregnancy: Eat a healthy snack beforehand, stay well-hydrated, wear comfortable clothes and supportive shoes, don’t exhaust yourself, and listen to your body – stop any activity that causes unusual pain or discomfort. In my next article, I’ll go into more detail about the components of your exercise program.

Don’t let pregnancy pain keep you from fitness. Call 463-0022 today for your FREE Pregnancy Pain Assessment!