Benefits of Exercising During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a great time for a woman to make positive changes in her lifestyle such as eating more healthily and engaging in regular physical activity. Exercise is incredibly important for maintaining a healthy pregnancy: it reduces excessive weight gain, decreases the risk for gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, improves sleep and increases energy, and may even help decrease lower back pain which is so common in later gestation. Also, regular exercise helps prepare the body to handle the most challenging part of pregnancy – labor & delivery! I am often asked questions about what type and amount of exercise is safe and recommended for pregnant women.
The CDC and the US Department of Health and Human Services recommend that healthy pregnant women should get at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has similar advice, recommending at least 30 minutes moderate exercise per day, on most, if not all days of the week. The level of exercise intensity is dependent on the normal activity level prior to pregnancy. Highly active women who typically engage in vigorous aerobic can continue during pregnancy and the time after delivery. Women who are typically sedentary or do little exercise should begin light intensity exercise such as walking.
In the past, there was a great deal of emphasis placed on the maximum heart rate during exercise in pregnancy; women were told to avoid exceeding 140 beats per minute. Though this maximum heart rate may be a good gauge for some women, heart rate responses to exercise in pregnancy are highly variable and therefore relying on heart rate is no longer recommended. The intensity of activity should be measured using a Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale with a target RPE of 12-14 (see image below).
Certain forms of activity should be avoided during pregnancy such as contact sports, scuba diving, or anything with a high risk of falling. Additionally, if you suffer from certain pregnancy complications such as preterm labor, short cervix, preeclampsia, or fetal growth restriction, your physician may advise you to abstain from exercise. For most women, however, exercise should become an important part of maintaining a healthy pregnancy and life!