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How Often Should Pregnant Women Exercise?

by
author image Barbara Diggs
Barbara Diggs is a freelance writer living in France. A former corporate lawyer, she has been writing professionally since 2006. She has been published in numerous print and online magazines, specializing in travel, parenting, history and law. Diggs is a graduate of Wesleyan University and Stanford Law School.
How Often Should Pregnant Women Exercise?
pregnant woman exercising with yoga Photo Credit szefei/iStock/Getty Images

In decades past, doctors advised pregnant women to remain sedentary and calm -- heart-thumping exercise was out of the question. In 2010, research has shown that pregnant women can greatly benefit from exercise. According to the website “Family Education,” pregnant women who exercise are often more physically comfortable, can tolerate the pain of labor better and recover faster from childbirth than women who do not exercise. Thus, as long as the pregnancy is progressing normally, a pregnant woman can and should exercise on a daily basis with her doctor's approval.

Frequency

Women who are physically fit and accustomed to a regular workout may continue to exercise as frequently as they are already doing so -- as long as it isn’t to the point of exhaustion. Five to six days is plenty enough for active women, taking a day or two off for rest. On the other hand, women who are out of shape or who didn’t exercise before getting pregnant should probably exercise only every other day at first, slowly working their way up to exercising nearly every day.

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Intensity

The intensity of the exercise depends upon how physically active you were pre-pregnancy. The ChildBirth website notes that if you aren’t used to working out, you should only engage in mild or moderate exercise throughout your pregnancy. If you worked out regularly prior to becoming pregnant, you can generally continue your usual routine during pregnancy. You may note, however, that you may not be able to exercise for the same length of time as before, as you may tire or become winded much more easily. Pregnancy is not the time to set your personal record for sprints, races or 1-repetition maximal strength exercises.

Types

Pregnant women have a range of exercise options. According to the American Pregnancy Association’s “Top Recommended Exercises,” most exercises are low-impact, meaning they do not put undue stress on the joints and ligaments. Prenatal yoga is one of the most popular forms of exercise, as it not only tones and stretches the body but promotes feelings of mental and physical well-being. Other recommended exercises include swimming, water aerobics, stationary cycling or just walking. If you consistently ran or jogged pre-pregnancy, then your doctor may approve you to continue during your pregnancy.

Exercises to Avoid

The medical community generally agrees that activities such as downhill skiing, snowboarding, water skiing, horseback riding, scuba diving, rock climbing or any contact sports should be entirely off-limits during pregnancy. These sports carry a high risk of falling or injuries to the stomach, which could have a grave effect on the pregnancy. You should also avoid exercises that require you to lie flat on your back, particularly after the third month, as that position can restrict blood flow to the uterus.

Safety Precautions

No matter how frequently you exercise, you should take precautions each time. According to BabyCenter, one of the largest risks of exercising during pregnancy is overheating or dehydration, which can cause contractions. To avoid this, you should drink approximately one cup of water for every 20 minutes you work out and one cup after you finish. Also, be sure to take breaks -- or stop -- when you are feeling tired, as injuries occur more often when you’re exhausted. Face a fan toward you if possible, or use an exercise machine that is near a fan vent.

Warning Signs

Stop exercising if you feel dizzy or faint, or experience any bleeding, cramping or contractions. If these symptoms continue after you’ve relaxed for several minutes, call your health care provider.

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