How to Exercise Safely if You’re Pregnant

Quick tips to stay healthy when pregnant
Prenant woman walks runs around a lake

Contributors: Ob/gyn Salena Zanotti, MD and Rebecca Justen, DPT, OCS.

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Many expecting mothers ask: Can I exercise during pregnancy?

And the answer is yes, with the right guidance.

One of the best things you can do during pregnancy is continue to work out. In most cases, as long as the pregnancy is normal and not high-risk, exercise is perfectly safe. You’ll simply want to reduce the intensity of your workouts, especially as the months go on. Be sure to discuss your workout plans with your doctor first.

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy:

  • Helps to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reduces minor discomforts of pregnancy, like backaches.
  • Improves body mechanics, posture and mood.
  • Increases energy.
  • Helps with constipation and bloating.
  • Aides in better sleep.
  • Helps to prepare the body for labor and delivery.

Research shows that exercise throughout pregnancy can even help decrease pregnancy related illnesses such as depression, preeclampsia, high blood pressure and gestational diabetes.

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How active were you before pregnancy?

Your physical activity level during pregnancy will depend on how active you were before becoming pregnant.

Were you not very active before pregnancy? If so, you should start out slowly and gradually increase your workout to 3 to 4 times a week for 30 minutes at a time.

Be sure to slow down if you feel pain or are unable to breathe normally. Both are signs that you’re pushing yourself too hard.

If you were a fitness buff before pregnancy, then you should remain active – but not quite as vigorously. For example, don’t work through pain or discomfort like you would have if you were training for a marathon. This can lead to overexertion, which requires more oxygen and can take away from the baby’s supply.

How long should you exercise for when you’re pregnant?

It’s recommended that pregnant women exercise 120 to 150 minutes a week. This time should be spent on moderate intensity aerobic exercise. That means that you should work hard enough to sweat, raise your heart rate and be able to talk – but not be able to sing. 

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What exercises can you do when pregnant?

  • Walking, swimming and low impact aerobics. These are all safe activities to continue during pregnancy.
  • Water aerobics. Good for anyone experiencing low back pain as the water helps support the extra weight.
  • Weight training. If you do strength training, decrease to lighter weights with higher repetitions.
  • Yoga and Pilates. This type of exercise can be great, but do not do movements that compress the belly in mid to late pregnancy.
  • Running and bicycling. If you’re a runner or regularly rode your bike prior to pregnancy, it’s typically ok to continue. But as the months go by, be careful of the terrain to reduce your fall risk. Consider moving inside to a stationary bike or treadmill after the second trimester.

What exercises should you avoid when pregnant?

  • High-impact aerobics. Hold off on these activities during pregnancy. Avoid rapid or uncontrolled bouncing or jerky movements.
  • Horseback riding, skiing or gymnastics. Avoid these activities and anything that puts you at risk for falling.
  • Soccer, basketball and volleyball. Avoid these and any other recreational contact sports after the first trimester.

Important things to know about exercise and pregnancy

Whenever you exercise, it’s important to stay hydrated. Remember to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.

Also focus on maintaining good posture and using good body mechanics. If anything doesn’t feel right, it’s important to pay attention. Always listen to your body and don’t push your limits. It’s important to know when to avoid exercise too. Don’t work out in excessive heat or humidity. And never work out to the point of fatigue.

You should also stop exercising if you experience vaginal bleeding, severe abdominal pain, a lack of fetal movement, or if your membrane breaks. If any of these things occur, call your doctor immediately.

Remember to talk to your physician before you exercise while pregnant. Some discomfort during pregnancy can be normal, but pain is not. If you’re having any pain while exercising, stop and contact your doctor.

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