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How to Exercise Safely if You’re Pregnant

Walking, running, lifting and other exercises can be safe, but avoid contact sports and falling risks

Prenant woman walks runs around a lake

When you’re pregnant, you can expect certain changes in your life. And keeping yourself healthy should be your top goal while you’re pregnant. That means eating well, taking your prenatal vitamins, having regular prenatal care appointments and having someone else change the kitty litter.

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Exercising is also important. Keeping your body physically fit can promote healthy fetal development and ward off some of the aches and pains of pregnancy.

The best exercise routine for you will vary, though. And while it’s always important to exercise safely, during your pregnancy, you’ll want to modify to a less intense pace as your pregnancy progresses.

“During pregnancy, there are so many changes that are happening in your body that can impact your stamina and your physical abilities,” says Salena Zanotti, MD. “Much of what a pregnant person can and should do to stay healthy during their pregnancy will vary from person to person, but the most important thing to remember is to listen to your body’s cues and not push yourself too hard.”

Dr. Zanotti shares some of the best and worst exercise choices for pregnancy. Your recommendations may be different, based on your health history and your pregnancy, so it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider, like an Ob/Gyn or a midwife before starting or continuing your exercise program.

Can you exercise when you’re pregnant?

With the right guidance, exercise can be really beneficial to your pregnancy. One of the best things you can do during pregnancy is continue to work out, Dr. Zanotti says. That’s because exercise can come with some pregnancy-boosting benefits like:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Reducing discomforts of pregnancy, like backaches.
  • Improving body mechanics, posture and mood.
  • Increasing energy.
  • Improved flexibility and strength.
  • Helping with constipation and bloating.
  • Encouraging better sleep.
  • Helping to prepare your body for labor and delivery.

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The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says exercise during pregnancy may even decrease your risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and cesarean delivery (C-section).

“In most cases, as long as your pregnancy is not high-risk, many kinds of exercise can be done perfectly safely,” Dr. Zanotti reassures. “You’ll simply want to reduce the intensity of your workouts, especially as the months go on.”

How active were you before pregnancy?

What exercises are appropriate and how much exercise you should get will vary. In part, it will depend on your level physical activity level before you became pregnant.

If you were a fitness buff before pregnancy, there’s no need to stop now. You’ll probably want to ratchet down the intensity of your routine during your pregnancy, though. When you’re pregnant, you shouldn’t be working through pain or discomfort like you would have if you were training for a marathon. Avoid overexertion. Becoming too winded can mean less oxygen can get to the fetus.

If you were less active before pregnancy, Dr. Zanotti suggests starting out slowly and gradually increasing your workout to three to four times a week for 30 minutes at a time. Try low-intensity activities like swimming or walking at first.

How to exercise safely during pregnancy

It’s recommended that people who are pregnant exercise between 120 and 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.

“It’s a matter of not overdoing it,” Dr. Zanotti says. “How hard you should work out and for how long will depend on your physical ability, but when you’re pregnant, the important thing to remember about exercise is not to go full-force.”

Your capacity for exercise will probably diminish throughout your pregnancy. That’s OK. Listen to your body and take care of yourself.

Dr. Zanotti offers these quick tips to exercise in a healthy way while you’re pregnant:

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.
  • Focus on maintaining good posture and using proper body mechanics.
  • Always listen to your body, and don’t push your limits.
  • Avoid working out in excessive heat or humidity.
  • Stop before reaching the point of fatigue.
  • Make sure you’re continuing to take in enough calories to attain your goal body weight.

Consider these pregnancy-safe workouts and recommendations:

Strength training and lifting

If you currently participate in strength training or enjoy weightlifting, you don’t have to stop when you’re pregnant. Rather than pushing your max weight, though, Dr. Zanotti suggests decreasing the weight you lift. But you can make up for the lightened load with more repetitions, as long as you feel comfortable.

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Your healthcare provider can help you develop the best strength-training plan for your pregnancy based on your current level of fitness and how your pregnancy is progressing.

Running

If you’re a runner, it’s typically OK to continue. Listen to your body, though. You may find that keeping your pre-pregnancy pace is more strenuous these days. And you may find that you can’t run as far anymore without taking a break. That’s because your body is putting a lot of energy into growing a healthy fetus, and that can lead to less energy for you.

Slow down when you need to, and cut that run short if you’re feeling worn out.

Biking

For people who regularly rode prior to pregnancy, continuing for the first few months is OK.

But Dr. Zanotti suggests that as the months go by, be extra vigilant of the terrain you’re cycling on. Falling can be very dangerous for you and the fetus. You might consider moving inside to a stationary bike after the second trimester.

Yoga/Pilates

Yoga and Pilates can be healthy choices for pregnancy. Be mindful, though, to avoid any movements that compress your belly, particularly in mid to late pregnancy. That includes things like twisting toward your midline or bending at your waist. Some gyms and other facilities may offer specific classes for people who are pregnant, or instructors who are specially trained in exercise modifications for people who are pregnant.

During your pregnancy, you’ll want to avoid “hot yoga” and “hot Pilates” classes because of their intense nature.

Low-impact aerobics

Low-impact aerobics are safe activities to continue during pregnancy. That includes activities like swimming, walking and elliptical training (at a moderate pace).

Water aerobics can be a particularly good choice for people who are pregnant and experiencing low back pain. Being in water takes the pressure off your back, pelvis and knees, while still allowing you to get your heart rate up.

Exercises to avoid when pregnant

For your health and healthy fetal development, some activities should be considered off-limits during your pregnancy, Dr. Zanotti says.

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High-impact aerobics

During your pregnancy, you’ll need to modify the type of aerobic exercises you do as your pregnancy progresses. Your healthcare provider can provide specific information for you and your pregnancy.

Fall risks

Falling can be dangerous for you and the fetus, so you’ll want to be mindful of activities that involve heights or keeping your balance.

“During your pregnancy, your center of balance changes, particularly as your belly expands in the later months,” Dr. Zanotti explains. “That can put you at a greater risk for falls, so you’ll want to stay away from exercises that require balance.”

That means activities like horseback riding, skiing, gymnastics and skydiving should be put on hold during your pregnancy.

Contact sports

You’ll probably want to sit on the sidelines for your rec league after the first trimester or so. Even in sports that aren’t purposefully full-contact — like soccer, basketball and volleyball — things happen. And an inadvertent bump that sends you to the floor or a misplaced elbow to the stomach can be dangerous during your pregnancy.

Easy does it

Remember to talk to your healthcare provider for their advice about exercising while pregnant. While exercising can be good for you, physically and emotionally, remember that you may not be able to keep up at the same pace you once were used to. And that’s OK.

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

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

Some discomfort during pregnancy can be normal, but pain is not. If you’re having any pain while exercising, stop and contact your healthcare provider.

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