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How Much Should You Exercise Throughout Your Pregnancy

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

Not only is every pregnancy different, but every day during the same pregnancy can bring a whole new set of experiences and symptoms. Some days you’ll feel exhausted, nauseous, or just plain tired of being pregnant. But some days you’ll feel full of energy and ready to take on the world.

Exercise throughout pregnancy is a great way to make the most of that energy while also ensuring that you stay fit and healthy for your baby. What’s more, exercising can also help relieve some of the symptoms you’re bound to encounter on your pregnancy journey. But what exercises are safe during pregnancy? And what month should you start exercising?

If you feel like you have more questions than answers about exercising during pregnancy, we’re here to help! Keep reading to find out all the best exercise during pregnancy advice!

The Benefits of Exercising During Pregnancy

It’s important to remember that while you might experience fatigue, nausea, and no end of other symptoms during pregnancy, it’s a condition rather than an illness. As such, you should try to maintain as much of a normal routine as possible. That goes for exercise as much as other pre-pregnancy activities, like working and having sex.

Exercising during pregnancy offers a lot of the same advantages as exercising when not pregnant. These include a mood boost, greater mental clarity, improved flexibility, and more stamina. But, pregnancy exercise also offers extra benefits for both you and your growing baby.

Staying active can help ease some of the changes and symptoms you might experience during pregnancy. Many pregnant women find that exercise helps reduce swelling, bloating, constipation, and backache. It can also improve your sleep quality and your posture as your centre of gravity shifts.

Many studies show that exercise helps promote healthy pregnancy weight gain. Active expectant women also experience lower rates of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and caesareans. What’s more, women who exercise during pregnancy tend to cope better with labour, experience faster recovery times, and report less postnatal depression.

Who Should Avoid Exercising Throughout Pregnancy?

While there are many benefits to exercising during pregnancy, we must warn that it’s not suitable for everyone. If you have an existing medical problem, such as heart disease, diabetes, or asthma, exercise might be inadvisable. Exercise can also be harmful to women with pregnancy-related complications such as a weak cervix or a low placenta.

In these cases, you should always talk to your doctor or midwife before beginning an exercise program. They can also give you personal exercise guidelines based on your medical history. For example, walking at a slow pace might be fine for some women. Others, though, may need extended bed rest, especially towards the end of their pregnancy.

Continuing Your Pre-Pregnancy Exercise Routine

Exercising while pregnant is safe if you’re healthy and have an uncomplicated pregnancy. Although, the amount, level, and type of exercise you can do depend a lot on your current physical shape and what exercise you did before pregnancy.

Mums-to-be like Amber Miller running the Chicago marathon at 39 weeks pregnant or surfer Kristina Olivares riding the waves for all nine months of her pregnancy are exceptional cases. They were already used to these more strenuous forms of exercise so continuing them during pregnancy was safe. Likewise, if you have clearance from your doctor, there’s no reason why you can’t continue a strenuous pre-pregnancy workout routine too.

That said, not every type of physical activity is safe during pregnancy. Pregnant women should avoid the following:

  • Contact sports like kickboxing and judo;

  • Ball games like football, netball, and volleyball as there is a risk of getting hit by a ball;

  • Horse riding, skiing, and snowboarding due to the high risk of hard falls; and

  • Scuba diving, which puts your baby at risk of decompression sickness or even death.

Aside from these riskier activities, experts encourage expectant mothers to aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. For women who are already active, this is realistic and achievable during every stage of pregnancy.

As such, if you’re considering motherhood in the near future, it’s wise to establish an exercise routine before you get pregnant. A pre-pregnancy well-woman scan can also confirm that you’re ready to begin your pregnancy journey at full health.

Safe Exercises During Pregnancy

Now you know how much physical activity to aim for, what are some safe exercises during pregnancy?

Most recommendations advise moderate activity during pregnancy, but it’s often unclear what ‘moderate’ means. Doctors used to tell pregnant women to keep their heart rate below 140 bpm. Although, this would exclude exercises like Zumba and spinning, which can be beneficial for fit and healthy expectant women to continue during pregnancy.

Instead of watching your heart rate, doctors now advise listening to your body and its reaction to perceived exertion. The easiest way to measure this is with the ‘talk test’. While working out, to stay within the safe range, you should be able to maintain a conversation but not be able to sing. If you’re out of breath, slow down the pace. And if you feel weak, dizzy, or in pain, stop.

For most pregnant women, enjoyable, achievable and safe exercises during pregnancy include:

  • Brisk walking at a speed of around 3 or 4 mph;

  • Water aerobics;

  • Swimming and snorkelling;

  • Yoga; and

  • Pilates.

Although, if you’re already a keen runner or cyclist, these more intense forms of exercise are fine to continue if you have clearance from your doctor.

For those of you who had a non-existent pre-pregnancy exercise routine, it’s normal to struggle with the 30 minutes of recommended exercise. Stay safe by building up with shorter blocks of exercise or going at a slower pace. Any physical activity is better than none so don’t feel under pressure to go faster or do more. The main thing is to go with whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident.

Exercise Adaptations Throughout Your Pregnancy

Since women all experience different symptoms at different times, there’s no one-size-fits-all exercise throughout pregnancy timeline. While you might think that exercise is easier at the start of your pregnancy and more difficult towards the end, this is rarely the case. Your growing bump can often make you less agile, but many women feel more energetic in the later stages of their pregnancy once the sickness and other symptoms have subsided.

Regular scans and medical check-ups can reassure you that your baby is healthy and developing well. But just because your baby’s doing great, it doesn’t mean you are. So, while exercise is important, rest days are too, especially if you’re going through a tough trimester.

For those of you wondering which month to start exercise during pregnancy, it depends a lot on how you feel. Starting as soon as possible is always best, but we realise that struggling to adjust to your new condition can delay even the best intentions.

Our advice is to aim for a 30-minute walk every day of your pregnancy if you can. A walk to the shops is a great way to get some fresh air and exercise even if you’re struggling with sickness and other symptoms. Maintaining this kind of routine during pregnancy also makes it easier to regain your strength for exercising after pregnancy too.

Although, if you have more strenuous exercise in mind that walking, even the fittest and healthiest amongst you will need to adapt your usual exercise routine throughout your pregnancy. Some modifications might include:

  • Lifting lighter weights;

  • Running at a slower pace or shorter distances;

  • Cutting out jumps from training routines;

  • Slowing your cycling speed during spinning classes;

  • Avoiding sharp twisting motions or deep stretches. Mums-to-be have a higher risk of injury because their bodies are producing higher levels of the hormone relaxin. This loosens ligaments and joints in preparation for labour but it can make you more susceptible to twisting your joints, especially as your due dates nears; and

  • Avoiding positions and exercises that involve lying on your back. This can cause dizziness and fainting due to restricted blood flow, especially after the 16-week mark;

If you attend any classes, make sure your instructor knows that you’re pregnant as well as how far along you are. This way they can recommend modified poses and watch out for you during more intense routines.

Remember that your core body temperature is also higher during pregnancy. To avoid getting overheated, make sure the room you’re exercising in has good airflow, stay hydrated, and wear looser clothing. It’s also a good idea to position yourself near the door so you can make a quick exit if necessary!

Your Guide to Exercising During Pregnancy

As this guide shows, there are a lot of tips and recommendations out there about exercise throughout pregnancy. While you should take all this information on board, as long as you have clearance from your doctor, the best approach is to listen to your body and do what feels good. Because no one knows your body like you do.

For more insight, our scans can help confirm your pre-pregnancy health or your baby’s development during pregnancy. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us for more information or to book an appointment at one of our clinics. Wherever you are on your motherhood journey, we’re here to help.

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