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Pregnancy and Physical Activity

fa10-6-feature-pregnantA pregnant woman who is physically fit may have an easier labor and faster recovery after delivery because she is stronger and has more stamina. The U.S Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy pregnant women get at least 2 1/2 hours of aerobic exercise every week, or about 30 minutes a day five days a week.

Why it’s important

Exercise helps everyone feel better emotionally and physically. For pregnant women, exercise has additional benefits. It can prevent gestational diabetes, a special type of diabetes that only develops during pregnancy. If a woman does develop gestational diabetes, exercise can help control blood glucose levels to protect herself and the baby.

Exercise not only relieves stress and builds endurance needed for labor and delivery, but it can also help a woman to cope with postpartum depression. She will also have more energy to meet the demands of motherhood and will lose the weight she gained during pregnancy more quickly.

How to get active

For the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, many women feel tired and nauseated. This can make it hard to get motivated to be active. During this time, a woman may need to slow down and rest more, but she should try to do as much as she feels she can. Sometimes just walking outside in the fresh air will help relieve some fatigue and nausea. After 12 to 16 weeks, most women feel better and will be able to do more. This is a good time to establish a regular exercise routine. However, by 32 to 34 weeks gestation, the baby will be quite large, making it necessary for the woman to modify her physical activity to maintain her balance and prevent injury.

The type of physical activity a woman chooses will depend on convenience, cost, time and access to a place to exercise. Activities that can usually be performed until delivery include walking, yoga, swimming and water aerobics; however, activities such as running, high-impact aerobics, bicycling, competitive sports, weight training or martial arts may needed to be modified or stopped.

If a woman is starting a new activity, she will need to begin with short, gentle sessions. If she is in an exercise class, she should inform her instructor that she is pregnant so appropriate advice can be given on how to modify the activity, if needed. Some activities that must be avoided entirely during pregnancy include scuba diving, skydiving, rock climbing, skiing and horseback riding.

Care must be taken while working out, as pregnancy causes muscles and ligaments to soften and become more flexible. This change makes the body more prone to sprains, strained muscles and soft tissue injuries. To prevent problems, a woman should always warm up and stretch before each workout, then cool down with slow walking for about 5 to 10 minutes after exercise to protect joints and muscle.