• Exercise in Pregancy

    Exercise in Pregancy


"Exercise during pregnancy, sure what odds if I exercise or not? Does it really make much of a difference?"

Shorter labour time and fewer delivery complications! I am going to leave that there for a moment… might even say it again! Shorter Labout Time and Fewer Delivery Complications!

Exercise in pregnancy can help significantly impact on your labour and delivery. Well that’s me sold!
For those of you who like to get your value for money, and those of you who think that there would need to be some very enticing benefits to get up and out exercising when you’re already carrying the child (isn’t that effort enough?), what else does exercise during pregnancy offer? Yes, this is a researched fact. 
  • Sleep
  • Less Stress
  • Less Swelling
  • Sleep
    Well I for one like my sleep! Love getting off into a deep slumber, cosying into my pillows and dreaming the night away! I certainly don’t want to be tossing and turning all night for months of pregnancy, not able to sleep, bickering with my partner because I’m jealous he’s getting such a good sleep! I want to be waking up in the morning looking my youthful rested self.. if you’re like me? You guessed it, exercise in pregnancy improves your sleep! Something to think about as you dose off tonight perhaps?
  • Less Stress
    My Life is stressful enough, I’m sure your’s is too. I’m always reading the articles in the magazines in the hairdressers that promise to have the top five ways to banish stress and anxiety from my life! But, according to the research, we don’t have to look too far. Exercise in pregnancy reduces stress, anxiety and depression and results in a more positive pregnancy experience. Thank god for that!

    So if you’re telling me that rather that having that meltdown moment in my office or at home or on the bus, that I could actually be cool, calm and collected during my pregnancy (or as much as I ever am under normal circumstances), then that’s a thumbs up from me!
  • Less Swelling
    Also I’ve spent a small fortune over the past few years on footwear, I love my pumps, shoes and boots! I don’t want the latest addition to my collection thinking I’m abandoning it now I’m pregnant, so according to the research, exercising my way through pregnancy will let me feel like Cinderella every day, my foot sliding effortlessly into my shoe! Exercise in pregnancy = less swelling of the feet and ankles = one very happy shoe addict!


happy lower backstay a healthy weightmore energyboost co-ordinationimproved breath controlfaster recovery

You’ll also enjoy a happy low back, less aches and pains!

You’ll maintain a healthy weight for your pregnancy, preventing obesity in pregnancy.

You’ll have more energy, perhaps that’s the glow they’re always refencing... or is that just better circulation of blood, with more oxygen through your body and to your baby.

Exercise will help boost your co-ordination, which is more important thank you might imagine until you are near full term and realise that indeed you expanding baby bump does make sudden movements, like turning quickly to look around, more unbalanced. The joys of pregnancy.

With a growing baby deciding that t wants to push up on your diaphragm, improved breath control and breath awareness is helpful.


Where is your fitness at present?

A complex non-exerciserNon-regular exerciserA regular exerciserAn elite athlete

  • How much exercise should you get?

    You may be surprised by this, but the research suggests 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise per day on most, if not all, days of the week. That may seem like a lot, but choosing the right exercise option for you can help make it easier, maybe even enjoyable! When you think about it, even making simple changes to your lifestyle might help, taking the stairs at work throughout the day or parking further away from where you need to go to walk a little more. Remember that the primary aim of exercise during pregnancy is to retain the fitness you have and improve on that, rather than aiming for absolute peak fitness. And even if you are reading this, and you are pregnant but not in a regular routine of exercise, it’s not too late! You can still start exercising during pregnancy to avail of the health benefits. Seek medical advice from your GP or someone like myself for guidance initially, just to be on the safe side. It will allow you to be confident that you are doing the right type and intensity of exercise for you.
  • Should I do cardio or strength conditioning?

    Should I do cardio or strength conditioning?

    There may be certain medical reasons why exercise may not be advisable during your pregnancy, but in the absence of any particular medical limitation, you are encouraged to participate in both aerobic and strength conditioning exercises for a healthy pregnancy and to minimise complications.
    Are there any risks?
    Although exercise in general can be beneficial during pregnancy, there may also be certain risks. These are related to the physical changes that occur as your body adapts to pregnancy. The risks are more likely to occur when you do inappropriate kinds of exercise (see the section on ‘What exercises should I avoid?’) and when you over-exert yourself (see the section on ‘How can I be sure not to over-exert myself?’). By making appropriate adjustments to your exercise routine, you can reduce the likelihood of harm to you and the baby.
  • Getting too hot?

    When you exercise during pregnancy, your overall body temperature increases more than it would do normally. If your body temperature rises above 39.2°C in the first 12 weeks, this may affect the baby’s development leading to disability at birth. To reduce the risk of getting too hot, you should:
    • ensure that you drink lots of water before and during exercise
    • avoid over-exerting yourself, particularly in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy
    • avoid exercising in a very hot and humid climate until you have acclimatised – this will take a few days.
  • Low Blood Pressure

    When you lie flat on your back, the growing baby presses on the main blood vessels. The effect is that less blood is pumped around your body and this may lead to low blood pressure (hypotension). This is more likely after 16 weeks of pregnancy. To reduce the risk of low blood pressure, you should:
    • avoid exercises which involve lying flat on your back, particularly after 16 weeks.
  • Physical Injury

    During pregnancy you may notice that your joints become loser. You may also notice that you can flex and extend particular parts of your body more than usual, such as your elbows, wrists, fingers, and knees. This is often referred to as hypermobility. It occurs because hormonal changes affect the ligaments that normally support your joints, which in turn make the joints loose in preparation for birth. When your joints and ligaments are less stable, you are at increased risk of injuring yourself. To reduce the risk of physical injury, you should:
    • make sure that you do warm-up and cool-down exercises
    • avoid sudden changes of direction, if you are doing aerobic exercise
    • consider wearing pelvic support belts during exercise
  • Reduced O2 for baby

    At high altitudes, the flow of blood to the womb is decreased and so the baby receives less oxygen. (Hypoxia) If a woman exercises at high altitudes, the amount of blood flowing to the womb is decreased even further. This leads to insufficient oxygen for the baby. To avoid the risk of the baby receiving insufficient oxygen, you should:
    • avoid exercise at altitudes over 2500 metres until you have acclimatised – this may take a few days.
  • Blood sugar level

    Blood glucose is a source of energy for both you and the baby. It is important that you:
    • eat well during pregnancy
    • exercise for no more than 45 minutes at a time
    If you have pre-existing or gestational diabetes mellitus, then you should take particular care when exercising. You should have your blood glucose monitored, eat at regular times, take rest at specific times, and ensure that your baby is carefully monitored. Your healthcare professional should provide you with further information.

Why aerobic and strength conditioning exercise?
preg exercise montage

Aerobic, or cardiovascular exercise raises your heart rate. This causes blood to
circulate more quickly around the body and as a result more oxygen reaches the muscles. Swimming, running, fast walking, aqua aerobics and dancing are examples of aerobic exercises.

Strength conditioning exercise helps to increase your overall fitness and involves slow, controlled movements such as weight bearing exercises. This greatly benefits the lower back, pelvis and hips. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Where do I start?

If you do not exercise routinely and you are starting an aerobic exercise programme, you should be advised to begin with no more than 15 minutes continuous exercise three times per week. Increase gradually to a maximum of 30 minute sessions four times a week to daily.

If you exercised regularly before pregnancy, you should be able to engage in the same higher intensity exercise programmes, such as running and aerobics. It will have no adverse effects for you or the baby.

As your pregnancy progresses, you should be aiming to gradually reduce your overall activity. Your healthcare professional can give you guidance on when and how to reduce your exercise.

What kind of exercise should I avoid?

  • You should avoid exercises which involve lying flat on your back, particularly after 16 weeks.
  • You should avoid contact sports where there is a risk of being hit in the abdomen, such as kickboxing, judo or squash.
  • You should take particular care when doing exercises where there is a possibility of falling or losing your balance, such as horse riding, downhill skiing, ice hockey, gymnastics and cycling. Because your joints are less stable, your centre of gravity is altered (the bump tends to overbalance you), and your reactions are slower. It might be best to avoid these exercises unless you do these activities regularly and you generally take extra care. The consequences of a fall can be more severe in pregnancy.
  • You should avoid scuba diving for your entire pregnancy because the baby has no protection against decompression sickness and gas embolism under water.
  • You should avoid exercising over 2500 metres until you have acclimatised.

How can I be sure not to over-exert myself?

    To ensure that you do not over-exert yourself, you should always have a warm-up and a cool-down period.

    There are also various techniques to help you to stay fit without exercising too intensely. These are:

    The ‘talk test’

    During recreational exercise, you should be able to hold a conversation. If you become breathless as you talk, then you are probably exercising too strenuously.

    Self-assessment scale

    Another way to ensure that you are not over–exerting yourself is to use the ‘Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion’. This scale allows you to assess for yourself how strenuously you are exercising. One advantage of this technique is that it enables you to increase or decrease the intensity of your exercise as your pregnancy progresses.

    Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion: As can be seen, ‘very, very, light exercise’ is at one end of the scale (7 points) and ‘very, very, hard exercise’ is at the other end (19 points). During pregnancy you should be aiming to stay fit, which is around the middle of this scale, described as ‘Somewhat hard’ (12–14 points).

    Monitoring your heart rate

    When doing aerobic exercises, you should have a target zone for your heart rate. The target zone will depend upon your age and your exercise routine (as below). If you had a sedentary lifestyle prior to pregnancy, you will probably be advised of a maximum heart rate of sixty to seventy percent above your normal rate. If you are aiming to maintain fitness during pregnancy, then the upper limit of sixty to ninety percent of maximum heart rate will be advised. You should check your heart rate

    regularly while exercising to ensure that you do not exceed your target zone. To check this, you need to be able to take your pulse. This is because your pulse rate tells you how many times your heart beats. Your healthcare professional should show you how to take your pulse accurately. Information can be found at


    Maternal age

    Heart rate target zone (beats/minute)

    Less than 20 years


    20-29 years


    30-39 years


    Over 40 years



When should I stop exercising?

    If you have any unusual symptoms, you should not continue to exercise. If your symptoms began during aerobic exercise, it is important that you do not bring your exercises to an end abruptly as this can make you feel very faint. Instead, you should either walk around slowly for a short while, or continue transferring your weight from one foot to the other by lifting one heel and then the other.

    You should contact your healthcare professional immediately afterwards.

    Unusual symptoms may include any of the following:

    • dizziness or feeling faint
    • headache
    • shortness of breath before exertion
    • difficulty getting your breath whilst exercising
    • pain or palpitations in your chest
    • pain in your abdomen, back or pubic area
    • pain in your pelvic girdle
    • weakness in your muscles
    • pain or swelling in your leg/legs
    • painful uterine contractions or preterm labour
    • fewer movements from baby
    • leakage of your ‘waters’ (amniotic fluid)

What kind of exercise programme should I follow?

    Your programme should be designed to keep you fit, rather than improve your physical fitness or prepare you for a competition. For some women, this will mean adjusting to a less intense routine. For other women, it might mean introducing exercise to their lifestyle.

    The development of an exercise programme should take into account your fitness level including the kind of exercise you do, how much and how often you exercise and what you want to achieve.

    Based on how fit you are, your exercise routine will be classified as sedentary, recreational or competitive athlete. A health professional with a specialist training in teaching exercise during and

    after pregnancy will weigh up the potential benefits and harms of a range of exercises. Depending upon your current exercise routine, a programme should be recommended for you during pregnancy. This will include:

    • appropriate types of exercise
    • the length of each exercise session
    • the number of exercise sessions each week
    • how intensely you should exercise.

Can I exercise if I have a medical condition?

If you have a medical condition such as heart disease or high blood pressure, or develop this during pregnancy, then you should talk with your healthcare professionals (such as cardiologist and obstetrician) before doing any recreational exercise.

Can I train for athletic competitions?

If you are an athlete, you can continue to train for competitions. However, you will need supervision during training. You will need to be supervised by an obstetrician who has specialist knowledge and expertise. You will need to talk with your trainer about your requirements for additional hydration and nutrition.

If you are an elite athlete, you should not expect to retain peak fitness, so you should be prepared for a reduction in your performance during pregnancy.

Can I exercise immediately after birth?

If you have had an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery, then you should be able to do mild recreational exercise such as walking and stretching immediately after birth. You should be advised to do pelvic floor exercises after the birth, as this reduces the risk of urinary and faecal incontinence.

Women who do exercise during pregnancy, tend to continue to exercise after birth. The benefits of exercising at this time are that you:

  • feel better
  • feel less anxious and depressed
  • have more energy
  • lose weight
  • feel fitter (improved cardiovascular fitness).

You should return to the exercise routine you maintained before pregnancy only when you feel ready to do so. You should not try any high impact activity (where both feet leave the ground at the same time such as jumping or jogging) too soon.

During pregnancy abdominal muscles are stretched and pulled to the side. You should follow advice of your Chartered Physiotherapist in Women’s Health about when and how to exercise in the first few days and weeks after birth.

If you had complications during pregnancy, then you should discuss what exercise is safe to do after birth with a healthcare professional.


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