How Active Should I Be Whilst Pregnant?
Being active throughout our lives is beneficial and many people have some understanding about the importance of this for long-term health.
A certain amount of confusion persists around the best advice for pregnant women though. This is partly down to changing attitudes and advances in medical knowledge; it’s not so long ago women were advised to avoid any exertion and pregnancy was treated as an affliction.
For most women pregnancy will not necessitate cessation of exercise and activity although there are a few notable exceptions. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) provides guidelines specifying these ‘contraindications’ to exercise and this is something we cover in greater detail on the Pre- and Post-natal Exercise Course.
So for the vast majority of women exercise will not only be safe but also extremely beneficial and it doesn’t matter whether they have previously exercised or not. Pregnancy, an increased awareness about her body, and a desire to provide the best possible environment for her baby to grow, can be a great motivator and many women will be driven to take more interest in their health and fitness at this time.
When it comes to specific recommendations both the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and ACOG agree 30 minutes of moderate activity daily in uncomplicated pregnancies is beneficial. This refers to cardiovascular activity and can be achieved through a range of activities such as swimming, running, cycling, or carried out on gym-based equipment, as well as specialised classes that cater for pregnant women. The sort of activity is down to personal preference although some, such as running, are only recommended for someone with previous experience.
Resistance training is also beneficial to women during pregnancy. Making improvements to, or maintaining general strength, endurance and muscular tone can help with postural issues and reduce back pain and other common problems in pregnancy. Carried out two to three times a week weights will need to be gradually reduced through each trimester and as balance and size becomes an issue, other adaptations such as using more seated and machine-based exercises will be necessary.
Women who are already regular exercisers are best advised to see pregnancy as a time to maintain fitness rather than make gains or improve performance. This can present a challenge to women who are used to pushing their bodies. Understanding physiological changes, including hormonal, cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal, is vital. In our Pre- and Post-natal Exercise course we look at how these changes influence exercise prescription and suitable modifications as pregnancy advances.
This rise in popularity in Yoga and Pilates means many women are already engaged in these activities prior to pregnancy. Both can be wonderful form of exercise, an aid to relaxation and create an awareness of the body. Hormonal changes in pregnancy affect connective tissue, decrease joint stability and can lead to injury so whilst both these activities can be continued it’s important to avoid certain stretches and especially those that might encourage hyperextension. We look at this important area and how stretching needs to be modified in greater detail in our course.
In summary, pregnancy is an important and life-changing time for women. It presents many challenges for women coping with huge physical changes along with worries and concerns about the birth, life after the baby is born, as well as financial and work-related issues. Exercise and activity during this time has many benefits including creating a greater sense of well-being, helping a woman tune into the changes in her body, preparing for the physical demands of birth and coping with a new baby, reducing the risk of excessive weight gain and helping offset and manage many symptoms of pregnancy. Supporting women through their pregnancies with safe and effective exercise prescription is essential, with the added benefit that active mummies are more likely to be great role models to their babies and children and help them enjoy a lifetime of activity as well!
Written by Jacqueline Hooton