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Exercise Guidelines for Pregnancy

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   By: Shawna Boodhoo

   2015-01-26 04:50 PM

Popular opinion regarding exercise during pregnancy has changed drastically over the last 30 years.  Pregnancy was once viewed as a “delicate state,” and pregnant women were told to avoid physical exertion to keep their babies safe.  Luckily, science has prevailed, and the evidence is clear: the more fit and healthy a mom is before and during pregnancy, the easier her labour will be, the healthier the baby will be and the faster it will be for the mom to get her pre-baby body back. If you are already active, you can continue your exercise program; if you are new to exercise, start with a low intensity workout regime, and gradually build up your strength and endurance. While you should always talk to your doctor about your exercise program, and you should avoid taking up new or more strenuous activities, there’s no reason to view pregnancy as a disability.  Go ahead, get out there and stay fit – your body and your baby will thank you.

1.   Warm up

A warm up is important to prepare the body for exercise.  The joints become lubricated, the blood flow increases to the muscles and the cardiovascular system prepares for exercise.  All physical activity should begin with a 10-15 minute warm up.  Gentle low impact movement should be included.

2.   Perceived Exertion Scale

While exercising, prenatal clients are encouraged to work somewhere between the 3 and 5 based on the following scale.

1

Very Easy

2

Easy

3

Moderate

4

Somewhat Hard

5

Hard

6-9

Very Hard

10

Too Hard

 

3.   Talk Test

If you can carry on a conversation while exercising, catching your breath between sentences, you are likely working at a moderate level of intensity.  If you can’t talk continuously or are gasping for air in between words, you are working too hard.  Be aware of this technique so you can learn you assess your own intensity.

4.   Heart Rate

MODIFIED HEART RATE TARGET ZONES FOR AEROBIC EXERCISE IN PREGNANCY23

Maternal Age

Heart Rate Target Zone            (beats/min)

Heart Rate Target Zone            (beats/10 sec)

Less than 20

140–155

23–26

20–29

135–150

22–25

30–39

130–145

21–24

40 or greater

125–140

20–23

Reprinted with permission from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology www.csep.ca

5.   Frequency and Time

3-7 times/week starting with 15 minutes and gradually increasing to 30-60 minutes.

6.   Special Considerations

Stay well-hydrated and avoid overheating.  In your 3rd trimester, avoid lying on your back for more than 30 seconds.  Ensure balance while exercising.

Reasons to stop exercising immediately and seek medical advice:

  • Excessive shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Persistent or painful uterine contractions
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Any ‘gush’ of fluid 
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Premature labour

7.   Exercises to Improve Posture:

Many changes occur in a woman’s body during pregnancy that will affect her balance and posture.  There is significant increase of weight in the front of the body as the belly and breasts grow.  This will affect a woman’s center of gravity bringing her off balance.  As the belly increases in size it becomes more challenging to maintain tone and pelvic stability because the Transverses Abdominis (TVA) is stretched.  A hormone called Relaxin is released in the body that loosens the ligaments and joints.  There are certain muscle groups that require strengthening and stretching: glutes, upper back, lower back, core, pelvis floor, hamstring, hip flexors, chest, and hips.  

 8.   Cool Down

All physical activity should be followed by a 10-15 minute cool down.  This should involve decreasing the level of intensity before stopping an aerobic activity.  This allows the cardiovascular system to respond to the change in intensity.  The cool down should include at least 5-7 minutes of stretching.  Bring each stretch to a level of mild tension on the muscle and be careful not to overstretch.  Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds.

9.   Yoga

Yoga is a popular and safe form of exercise for pregnant women.  It improves flexibility, circulation and mind-body awareness, all of which carry benefits during pregnancy, labour and motherhood.  Practice such poses as seated twist, cat/cow, downward facing dog, chair, tree, warrior 2, triangle, goddess, garland (wide squat) wide-legged forward bend, butterfly, pigeon, child’s pose and happy baby.


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