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The benefits of exercise during pregnancy
Exercise during pregnancy does wonders. It boosts mood, improves sleep, and reduces aches and pains. It also prepares you for childbirth by strengthening muscles and building endurance, and makes it much easier to get back in shape after your baby is born.
Research suggests that prenatal exercise may also lower the risk of developing gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. If you've been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, exercise can help you manage the condition and prevent complications.
Exercise is so beneficial that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies aim to exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes a day with moderate intensity on most or all days of the week. The ideal workout gets your heart pumping, keeps you limber, manages weight gain, and prepares your muscles to handle the physical demands of pregnancy and the postpartum period without causing undue physical stress for you or the baby.
Consult your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program. If you get the go-ahead to work out, be sure to listen to your body. Don't overdo it – stop if it hurts or feels uncomfortable.
And before you put on your sneakers, learn the rules of safe pregnancy exercise. Many gyms and community centers offer fitness classes designed specifically for pregnant women and have instructors who can offer expert guidance on exercising safely.
The following activities are usually safe for expectant moms, although some of them may not work for you as you near your due date.Click on the links to learn more about each exercise.
Stay in shape, and practice important breathing techniques for labor and birth, with prenatal yoga.
Cardio for moms-to-be
- Walking: One of the best cardiovascular exercises for pregnant women, walking keeps you fit without jarring your knees and ankles. It's also easy to do almost anywhere, doesn't require any equipment beyond a good pair of supportive shoes, and is safe to do throughout all nine months of pregnancy.
- Swimming: Healthcare providers and fitness experts encourage swimming as the best and safest exercise for pregnant women. Swimming is ideal because it exercises your large muscle groups (both arms and legs), provides cardiovascular benefits, reduces swelling, and allows you to feel weightless despite all the extra pounds you're carrying. It can be especially helpful for women with low back pain.
- Aerobics: Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and tones your body. And if you take a class for pregnant women, you'll enjoy the camaraderie of other moms-to-be and feel reassured that each movement is safe for you and your baby.
- Dancing: Get your heart pumping by dancing to your favorite tunes in the comfort of your own living room or at a group dance class. Avoid routines that call for leaps, jumps, or twirls.
- Running: Going for a jog is an excellent way to exercise your heart and build endurance during pregnancy. The intensity of your run depends mostly on whether you're a veteran runner or a newbie. If you're a beginner, it's best to start at a slow pace on shorter routes before gradually building up to 30-minute runs.
Flexibility and strength training for moms-to-be
- Yoga: Yoga can maintain muscle tone and keep you flexible with little, if any, impact on your joints. But to give your heart a workout, you may have to add a walk or swim several times a week.
- Stretching: Stretching is a great way to keep your body limber and relaxed as well as prevent muscle strain. Add stretching to your cardiovascular exercises to get a complete workout.
- Weight training: As long as you take the necessary precautions and use good technique (meaning slow, controlled movements), weight training is a great way to tone and strengthen your muscles. Building strength during pregnancy will help prepare you for all the baby lifting you'll be doing soon!