Can you exercise while you're pregnant?

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By Meredith, Pure Matters

Let's get the awkward bit of the way first: I'm pregnant. Right now. You can't see the soccer ball I'm hiding under my shirt, but I assure you that it's there. I'm also still hitting the gym -- though I'm certainly not at the level I was six months ago, I'm still exercising. (I felt like I should tell you that, in case you were reading this and thinking, "What does this woman think she knows about pregnancy and exercise?" I know! For real!)

And I know firsthand that it's easy to get that big fat positive pregnancy test and then immediately start listing all the reasons you should skip the gym.

You might do something that hurts the baby.
You're exhausted.
You're supposed to be getting extra calories anyway, why add exercise to the mix?!

It's easy to think you can't. It really is. And maybe you can't do exactly what you were doing before, but you can do something. I had stretches of days (maybe weeks) where I thought I can't, but ultimately, the benefits of exercise during pregnancy got me up from my perch on the couch. Those benefits, straight from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, include:

  • Reduced backaches, constipation, swelling, and bloating
  • Increased energy
  • Better mood
  • Better posture
  • Better sleep
  • More muscle tone, strength, and endurance

Most of those benefits can help address common pregnancy complaints -- and while my back still hurts no matter what I do, I also sleep extremely well, I've had very little trouble with swelling, and my energy levels are improving. And that last benefit about strength and endurance, I suppose that might come in handy in the delivery room -- but I'll have to get back to you on that.

Now, if you're pregnant and I've convinced you to get moving, what can you do? First of all, before you do anything: Talk to you doctor. If you're already fit, he or she will likely give you a heartbeat-per-minute ceiling to stay under (mine was 140 bpm, which I found to be incredibly boring), and permission to go back to your usual routine. If you're just getting started, you'll likely get a customized slate of beginner exercises.

You'll want to make smart decisions -- I gave up bootcamp and tabata, because the classes were crowded, the floors would get sweaty, and I didn't want to fall or get bumped. (Basically, you should avoid any situation where you might fall -- skiing, roller derby, jousting, hockey, etc.) What exercises you can do varies by trimester, so keep the lines of communication with your doc open at every appointment. Meanwhile, here are a few things you can do safely, regardless of trimester:

  • Walking: Aim for 30 minutes a day. And it doesn't have to be one long 30-minute walk. I trek five blocks to and from work every morning and every night. Since I'm carrying around this soccer ball, it takes me at least 10 minutes each way. (Yup, I'm slow.) But boom -- I've more than halfway knocked this bit of exercise off my to-do list, five days a week, just by doing my job.
  • Swimming: It's great exercise, pregnant or not, because it works so many muscles and it's low impact. Plus, it's summer and the cool water feels great. Again, aim for 30 minutes of movement. I've been taking a water aerobics class, and while I certainly feel silly, it's refreshing.
  • Cycling: It gave me great pleasure to realize I didn't have to give up my beloved spin classes. Watch your heartrate, and ditch out of class after 30 minutes if you're beat — that's been my approach.
  • Yoga: Look for prenatal classes in your area for stretches and poses specifically designed to get your body ready to deliver a baby. You'll also get to meet other pregnant ladies in your area, and maybe make some new friends. (I confess, this is one area where I'm not practicing what I preach. Yoga bores me, and I'm anti-social.)

Regardless of what exercises you choose, hydrate as much as you possibly can, even if it means stopping for a bathroom break. If you start to feel dizzy, lightheaded, or weak during a workout, by all means: stop. More important, if you start to bleed, stop. The bottom line is that now more than ever, it's important to listen to your body. It'll tell you what it needs, and if you're pushing yourself too hard.