Bupa Information on Exercise in Pregnancy

Benefits of physical activity in pregnancy

During your pregnancy your body undergoes several changes that can come hand in hand with a number of health problems. The good news is that regular exercise can help some of these pregnancy-related niggles. Regular physical activity may help to:

  • Relieve tiredness
  • Ease lower back pain
  • Reduce varicose veins
  • Decrease swelling of your ankles and feet
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Improve your sleep

Changes to your body during pregnancy, such as putting on weight, can make you feel more tired but physical activity improves your strength and endurance, which will help you to carry the extra weight and prepare you for labour. There is some evidence to suggest that it can help to reduce the length of your labour and complications. It can also help prevent pregnancy-related health problems including gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. If you have gestational diabetes, keeping active can improve your blood sugar levels.

Are there any risks?

If your usual exercise routine involves pounding the streets four days a week with the odd kick-boxing class thrown in for good measure, you’ll need to start thinking about toning it down. This will help to reduce the risk of harm to you and your baby.

During pregnancy your body temperature increases more than usual when exercising. This can affect your baby’s development and increase the risk of problems for your child. Take care not to exercise in a hot or a humid environment, drink plenty of water and don’t overexert yourself.

When you lie on your back during pregnancy your baby presses on your main blood vessels. This can lower your blood pressure. It’s important not to exercise flat on your back after the sixteenth week of pregnancy.

Pregnancy hormones cause your ligaments and tendons to soften, and this can increase your risk of injury. Try not to make sudden changes of direction when you’re exercising as this will help to prevent injury.

Types of physical activity

The best type of exercise to do during pregnancy is a mixture of aerobic and strength exercise. Aerobic exercise such as walking or swimming helps you to get fitter and means your body gets better at using oxygen. Strength training involves moving your muscles against some kind of resistance, such as free weights or even your own body weight.

Let’s face it, unless you’re Paula Radcliffe, you won’t be winning any marathons during your pregnancy. Instead, content yourself with keeping fit rather than trying to break any fitness records.

Aim to do 30 minutes of activity at least five times a week. If you regularly exercised before you became pregnant, you should be able to carry on at the same intensity. But don’t forget that you’re aiming to stay fit, rather than reach your peak fitness levels or train for competition. Talk to your GP for more information and advice.

If you haven’t been active for a while, begin with 15 minutes of continuous exercise three times a week and increase this gradually to 30 minutes. Aim to maintain a good fitness level but don’t do too much. You can reduce the amount of physical activity that you do as your pregnancy progresses.

Exercises to work your pelvic floor may help to strengthen these muscles that will be strained during pregnancy and childbirth. These muscles support and help your bladder, bowel and womb to work properly. Sit on the floor with your legs slightly apart. Squeeze the muscles by imagining you’re trying to stop yourself from passing wind and stop the flow of urine at the same time. Hold for four seconds but don’t forget to breathe normally. Try holding for a longer count when you find the exercise easy.

Swimming and aqua aerobics are excellent forms of exercise to do during pregnancy as the water helps to support your weight. If you decide to go to any exercise classes, including yoga, it’s important to let your teacher know you’re pregnant. Yoga and tai chi are good choices of exercise because they will help to strengthen and stretch your muscles.

If you haven’t been taking regular exercise, it’s important to see your GP before starting a fitness programme.

Is there any activity I should avoid?

You may enjoy horse riding, cycling or ice skating. But doing these activities when you’re pregnant can be dangerous because you could be at risk of falling or losing your balance. Don’t do these activities after the first three months of pregnancy. If you enjoy contact sports, such as kickboxing, judo or squash, you will need to put these on hold until after your pregnancy because there is a risk of being hit in the abdomen (tummy). Scuba diving may also be harmful to your baby.

Action points

  • Choose an activity that you enjoy but don’t do any activities that may put you at risk of falling or losing your balance, such as ice skating or horse riding.
  • Take care not to exercise in a hot or humid environment and don’t exercise flat on your back after your sixteenth week of pregnancy.
  • If you haven’t been active for a while, start with 15 minutes of exercise three times a week and build up to 30 minutes.

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