Staying fit and healthy throughout pregnancy by continuing to be active and eating well is common advice for expecting mothers, but it also leaves many of the women we see with a lot of questions:
- Should I avoid ab exercises?
- Should I skip workouts during the first trimester?
- Should I scale back the exercise in the third trimester?
- Can exercise be harmful for my baby?
- Will it make my pregnancy aches and pains worse or better?
These are good questions - and here at PhysioCentral, we’re all for being fully informed about what’s best for a person, including any potential risks. Here’s what you should know about exercising during pregnancy, as well as whether or not it's safe.
The Benefits Of Exercise In Pregnancy
First thing’s first: yes, exercise during pregnancy is highly recommended, and for a wide range of reasons. First, it is associated with numerous benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, enhanced muscular strength, better pelvic floor health and strength, and better weight management. Engaging in appropriate exercises can also alleviate common discomforts such as back pain and swelling, contribute to better posture, and enhance your overall stamina, preparing the body for the demands of labour. Exercise has even been linked to a reduced risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, a common pregnancy-related concern that can have severe consequences if left unmanaged.
Beyond the physical advantages, staying active during pregnancy promotes positive mental health by reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. It fosters a sense of empowerment and body awareness, facilitating a smoother transition into motherhood and aiding in postpartum recovery.
How Do I Know It’s Still Safe In My Unique Circumstances?
We get it - you want to be doing everything possible to help your baby get the best start in life, and so even with knowing all of the health benefits, you may need certainty on whether it’s right for you to exercise in your unique circumstances. The only way to get that certainty is to consult with either your OBGYN or your physiotherapist, who can review your personal circumstances and guide you in the right direction of not only whether it’s safe to exercise, but what the right exercises for you are to help you thrive during this time.
Some women may have high risk pregnancies, but that does not mean that exercise is off the cards for you. You may just need a modified approach to exercise, so you can still reap the benefits while keeping your baby safe. If you’ve been placed on partial bed rest by your doctor, then it’s important for you to personally discuss with them the role that maintaining some form of gentle, low-impact exercise may play throughout your day, and follow their advice. Avoiding exercise can also have negative effects on your pregnancy, so it’s important to keep this in mind.
How To Exercise Safely During Pregnancy
According to the Hong Kong College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology (HKCOG):
- To maintain a good fitness level throughout pregnancy, all women without contraindications should be encouraged to participate in aerobic (such as swimming) and strength-conditioning exercises.
- Performing regular mild to moderate exercise sessions, three or more times per week is advisable.
- Beginning or continuing a moderate course of exercise during pregnancy is not associated with adverse outcomes.
The intensity of your exercise will also be influenced by your pre-pregnancy fitness levels. For those previously inactive, a ‘moderate’ intensity is adequate to obtain benefits for health and well-being. A woman accustomed to moderate intensity exercise pre-pregnancy should aim to maintain this level of intensity during pregnancy. Research is limited regarding exercise at higher intensities and accordingly, no evidence-based safe upper limit for the intensity of exercise has been established.
Pregnancy-Safe Exercise Options
Provided there are no contraindications, pregnant women are encouraged to participate in both aerobic and strengthening exercises. This can include a wide range of activities, with many specific modes of exercise having been studied in pregnancy and found to be safe and beneficial, including:
- Stationary cycling
- Aerobic exercises
- Resistance exercises (eg, using weights, elastic bands)
- Stretching exercises
- Hydrotherapy, water aerobics
Warning Signs To Cease Exercise And Seek Medical Attention
Part of safe and healthy exercise during pregnancy is knowing when to stop and get help. If you notice any of the following symptoms, it is recommended stop exercising and see your doctor:
- Chest pain
- Unexplained shortness of breath
- Dizziness, feeling faint or headache
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain, swelling or redness
- Sudden swelling of the ankles, hands or face
- Vaginal bleeding or amniotic fluid loss
- Decreased foetal movement
- Uterine contractions or pain in the lower back, pelvic area or abdomen
Exercises To Avoid
While most activity is deemed safe in low-risk pregnancies, potentially with some modifications, some activities may be best avoided, including:
- Contact sports that put you at risk of getting hit in the abdomen or pelvis
- Activities that may result in a high impact fall, such as downhill snowboarding
- Scuba diving
- "Hot yoga” or “hot Pilates,” which may cause you to become excessively overheated
When exercising, always ensure you’re staying well hydrated and refuelling well with food every time.
Our Physiotherapists Are Here For You
If you’re wanting to stay fit and active during pregnancy, or you want to start exercising gently to help you get the most benefits for both your baby and your body during this time, our team is here to help. Book your appointment by calling us on 2522 6972 or book online here.