Exercise in Pregnancy

Written by: Dr. Robert Hix

Many women would like to start or continue their exercise program during pregnancy but are uncertain of the safety or limitations of certain exercise routines. As obstetricians we would like to encourage our patients to exercise both during pregnancy and after for several reasons. A regular exercise program increases the health of the mother and growing fetus by increasing blood flow and oxygenation, promotes healthy weight gain, reduces back pain, and may decrease the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and caesarean delivery.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that pregnant women get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week. This may be divided into five 30-minute workouts per week or even shorter increments more frequently per day. We typically suggest a target heart rate that brings about perspiration but does not leave you breathless. A maximum sustained heart rate should not exceed 140 beats per minute (bpm) which means that pregnant women will need to check their pulse periodically while exercising. We also caution against exercising while laying flat on your back after the first trimester.

It is important to take other precautions during exercise such as drinking plenty of water before and during activity. Be cautious about overheating by exercising indoors and avoiding hot and humid outdoor activity. A belly support belt may be helpful as well as a sports bra to protect yourself and give added support to your changing body. It is also important to realize that your balance may have changed due to your growing belly.

There are many examples of safe exercises during pregnancy but also some to avoid. Walking is a great exercise and even running for more advanced athletes, however don’t forget to avoid the heat and be mindful of the maximum heart rate. Swimming is an excellent choice as it relieves some of the weight of the growing uterus. Yoga is also excellent for increasing flexibility and reducing stress. “Hot yoga” should be avoided due to risk of overheating. It is also not safe to engage in bike riding other than stationary bikes due to balance issues. Contact sports, scuba diving, and skiing should also be avoided due to risks of injury and oxygen deprivation.