By Natasha Lowe Osho MD, NASM CPT, Pre/Postnatal Performance Training Specialist
I remember in medical school, learning a lot about the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Self care and disease prevention was a very small component of the curriculum. In fact, you’ve most likely learned the same thing that I learned when it comes to disease prevention:
- Do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise OR 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical exercise per week
- Eat a healthy diet incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean
sources of protein, fat free or low fat dairy, legumes, and nuts. All while limiting added
sugar, salt, and saturated and trans fats.
How do we make these recommendations work in our day to day lives? In this article, I will focus on physical activity and exercise. What is the difference between physical activity and exercise? What is the difference between moderate and vigorous intensity exercise? Do I have to stop my routine because I’m pregnant? Can I even start a workout routine if I didn’t exercise before pregnancy? What activities and exercises are not safe during pregnancy?
I used to think that physical activity and exercise were interchangeable terms. But, now I know they have very different meanings. Physical activity is any movement that expends energy. For example, household chores, playing with the kids, or walking the dog. Exercise is structured, repetitive movements designed to maintain or improve physical fitness.
Exercise can be moderate intensity, vigorous intensity, or a combination of both. Think of intensity as the amount of demand exercise places on the body. There are fancy calculations and equipment that can determine exercise intensity. I, personally, like to keep things as simple as possible. In that spirit, moderate intensity exercise will increase your heart rate and breathing rate, but not to the point of exhaustion. A person should be able to have a conversation during moderate intensity exercise. Vigorous exercise requires more effort from
the body and includes cycling, running, and high interval training. Even though we have fancy recommendations for the types and amounts of exercise, the most important thing to remember is doing something is better than nothing.
This brings me to the whole point of the article. What about exercise during pregnancy? I’m glad you asked! I love the fact that I am able to merge my passion for women’s health with personal fitness. I would have patient’s come see me to initiate prenatal care and I would always recommend exercise and discuss its benefits. I’m sure you’ve heard them…exercise reduces the risk of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and excessive weight gain to name a few. It became frustrating for me not to be able to dive deeper into appropriate exercises and modifications for pregnancy. Hence, the birth of Bump Fitness Club (no pun intended lol)! Yes, exercise is safe during pregnancy. In fact, this is what we know about exercise during pregnancy:
- Does NOT increase the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, or early delivery
- Reduces back pain
- Improves constipation
- May decrease risk of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia
- May decrease the need for cesarean section
- Promotes healthy weight gain
- Improves overall fitness level
- Promotes postpartum weight loss
If you were already in an established routine prior to pregnancy, you can continue that routine. If you did not exercise prior to pregnancy, start with cardio and light strength training and slowly increase the intensity. Just keep in mind the following:
- Moderate intensity exercise is preferred for pregnancy. If you cannot have a conversation with the person next to you, then you are overexerting yourself.
- Both you and your baby need glucose for energy. Because of this, it is easier for your blood glucose to drop during exercise and cause hypoglycemia. You must eat a snack containing complex carbs, protein, and some fat about 30-60 minutes before your workout.
- Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate! You should drink between 64 and 80 ounces of water a day – even on the days you are not exercising.
- Your pregnancy hormones will cause your muscles and ligaments to relax. This is one of the amazing ways your body prepares itself for the birth of your baby. In regards to exercise, this can make you easily lose your balance resulting in a fall. Not everyone is equally affected by these hormones. You could even be steady on your feet one day and feel unsteady the next day. The most important thing to remember is avoidance of activities that increases your fall risk. No single leg exercises on an unstable surface!
- After about 16 weeks, you should avoid lying flat on your back as this will decrease the amount of blood returning to your heart. Less blood in your heart, means less blood gets pumped to the placenta and baby. Also, you will definitely feel the unpleasant symptoms of lightheadedness, dizziness, or even nausea.
What exercises and activities can I do while pregnant?
- Stationary cycling
- Low impact aerobic group training
- Modified yoga and pilates – avoiding positions where you are flat on your back
- Running or jogging
- Strength Training
Before you start or continue any exercise program during your pregnancy, ALWAYS consult with your healthcare provider to make sure you and your baby are healthy enough for exercise.
What exercises and activities should I avoid while pregnant?
- Contact sports
- Activities with high risk of falling such as skiing, surfing, mountain biking, gymnastics, and horseback riding
- Scuba diving
- Sky diving
- Hot yoga and saunas
To summarize, the big take home messages are:
- Appropriately modified exercise is safe in pregnancy.
- Eat and hydrate before you workout.
- Do not overexert yourself…You should be able to speak in full sentences with the person next to you.
- Decrease your risk of falling by staying on a steady surface.
- Do not lie flat on your back after 16 weeks.
- Don’t forget to always listen to your body.
- Before you start or continue any exercise program during your pregnancy, ALWAYS consult with your healthcare provider to make sure you and your baby are healthy enough for exercise.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Frequently Asked Questions #119, “Exercise During Pregnancy,” July 2019.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee Opinion #650, “Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period,” December 2015, Reaffirmed 2019.
Natasha Lowe Osho MD is a Board Certified OB/GYN, National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Certified Personal Trainer, Pre/Postnatal Performance Training Specialist, and Owner of Bump Fitness Club. Bump Fitness Club is a boutique fitness studio offering Prenatal and Postpartum Small Group Strength Training, Prenatal and Postpartum Yoga, and Nutrition guidance. Bump Fitness Club was started to help women have healthier pregnancies. Our mission is to provide a safe, supportive, and supervised environment to encourage exercise during pregnancy with the goals of helping women perform their daily activities, build strength and stamina for the physical demands of labor and delivery, and assist with postpartum recovery while building relationships and providing encouragement throughout the pregnancy journey. For more information, visit bumpfitnessclub.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.