Fitness for two: exercise and pregnancy

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Regular physical activity is an integral part of a healthy pregnancy, but it’s probably not the time to run your first marathon. Here’s what you need to bear in mind when exercising for two.

If you're a mom-to-be, you probably already know that you'll experience a wide range of physical and emotional changes throughout your pregnancy. Fortunately, exercise can help you feel better about some of these transformations by:

  • Improving your posture
  • Relieving back pain
  • Preventing the development of varicose veins and hemorrhoids
  • Staving off excessive weight gain
  • Enhancing your flexibility and strength
  • Expediting your recovery after childbirth
  • Improving your overall mood
  • Boosting your energy levels

But before you jump (or lunge or run) in, here's some advice on how to start and when to stop.

At the starting gate

Before you start any exercise program, it's critical that you speak to your doctor to find out what type of exercise is right for you, how hard you should be exercising, and what amount of exercise is safe for you and your baby. If you're accustomed to only modest levels of exercise, now's not the time to test your mettle on the tennis court. But even athletes need to listen to their body, dress appropriately and drink plenty of fluids — especially when pregnant.

Finding a program that’s right for you

A fit pregnancy doesn't have to entail a gym membership or top-of-the-line equipment. Rather, the goal is to get your body moving and your heart beating faster. Luckily, there are plenty of prenatal exercises — including the popular prenatal yoga classes — that can help you meet these important goals.

In addition to walking, swimming, and cycling, here are just a handful of programs to get you started:

  • Reach for the sky. Bearing a child can produce aches and pains throughout your body. Fortunately, stretching can help alleviate some of this tension by helping your muscles warm up and relax before beginning an exercise program.
  • Be keen on kegels. Kegel exercises are key to strengthening the muscles surrounding your vagina and pelvis. Because these muscles support the uterus and the extra weight of your baby during pregnancy, strengthening them helps improve your core muscle strength, eases labour pains, prevents urinary leaks when laughing or sneezing, and diminishes your chances of tearing when you give birth. For some women, though it can be hard to know if they're doing their kegels correctly. Try the following:
    1. Lie on your back with knees bent or sit with your legs crossed.
    2. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles gradually from your vagina to your anus. It should feel like you're stopping the flow of urine.
    3. Hold for a few seconds, working your way up to ten seconds.
    4. Slowly and gradually relax your pelvic floor muscles.
    5. Repeat 2 to 3 times, working your way to 10 times.
    6. If you're not sure you're doing the properly, speak to your doctor.
  • Work your abs — yes, your abs. You may think that the last thing you want is strong stomach muslces when you're pregnant; in fact, strengthening your abdominal muscles can reduce the chance of backaches — a common complaint for moms-to-be. So too can stomach exercises help you regain your pre-pregnancy physique after your baby is born. Just be sure you talk to your doctor to find out what stomach exercises are safe throughout your pregnancy.

Recognize your body's "stop signs"

Exercising during your pregnancy shouldn't be a test of endurance. Rather, start slow and begin with low-impact activities such as walking and swimming. A mere five minutes a day, gradually increasing to 30 minutes a session, can help you stay fit and feel good throughout your pregnancy.

But be careful you don't overdo it. Contact a doctor immediately if you start to experience:

  • Persistent contractions
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Increasing back, pubic or abdominal pain
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Difficulty walking
  • Changes in usual fetal movement

Whether you crave long walks or prefer the swimming pool, make physical activity a regular part of your healthy pregnancy. And before you know it, you'll be joining baby-and-me and mom-and-tots classes!

Useful links

Here are ways to get more information and tips on ideas expressed in this article:

This article may contain information related to nutrition, exercise and fitness and/or general information provided by select health care professionals. This information is provided for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment or advice provided by a qualified professional. Speak to your healthcare professional before making any changes to your lifestyle or beginning or discontinuing any course of treatment.


 

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