Exercise is a great way to stay healthy while you are pregnant. Exercising can:
- ease back pain and other soreness
- help you sleep better
- increase your energy level
- prevent excess weight gain
It has also been demonstrated that women who are in good physical shape experience shorter labor and an easier delivery.
Even if you did not exercise regularly before you became pregnant, it is a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about coming up with an exercise regimen. Healthy women are generally recommended to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise — such as walking, jogging, or swimming — each week. (Psst! For week-by-week pregnancy guidance, exercise tips, and more, sign up for our I’m Expecting newsletter.)
In the past, women were cautioned against strenuous aerobic exercise during pregnancy. This is no longer true. Most women can carry on with their pre-pregnancy exercising as routine with no trouble.
You should always talk to your doctor before beginning to exercise during your pregnancy. Certain conditions or symptoms might cause your doctor to advise you not to exercise. This includes:
- pre-existing heart or lung disease
- high blood pressure
- vaginal bleeding
- cervical problems
- high risk for preterm birth
Most women will be able to exercise as usual while pregnant. You may need to alter your routine if you usually participate in sports or activities that might pose a significant risk of injury, as you are more susceptible to injury when you are pregnant. This is in part because your balance is thrown off by the changes in your body. You should avoid anything that put you at risk for abdominal injury, falls, or joint injury. This includes most contact sports (soccer), vigorous racquet sports (tennis), and exercise involving balance (skiing).
It’s important to pay attention to how you feel while you’re exercising. If you notice the following symptoms, stop exercising right away and call your doctor:
- vaginal bleeding
- fluid leaking from your vagina
- uterine contractions
- chest pain
- uneven heartbeat
Your heart rate is the speed at which your heart beats. It beats slower when you are resting and faster when you exercise. Because of this, you can use your heart rate to measure the intensity of your exercise. For every age group, there is a “target heart rate.” The target heart rate is the rate your heart beats during good aerobic exercise. By monitoring your heart rate and comparing it to your target range, you can determine whether you are exercising too hard or not hard enough. When you exercise, you should aim to reach your target heart rate and stay within that range for 20 to 30 minutes.
You can measure your own heart rate by taking your pulse. To do so, place your index and middle fingers on the wrist of your other hand, just below your thumb. You should be able to feel a pulse. (You shouldn’t use your thumb to take the measurement because it has a pulse of its own.) Count the heartbeats for 60 seconds. The number you count is your heart rate, in beats per minute. You can also purchase a digital heart rate monitor to keep track of your heart rate for you.
You can find the target heart rate for your age from the American Heart Association website.
Pregnant women used to be told that their heart rate should not exceed 140 beats per minute. To put that number into context, the American Heart Association estimates that a 30-year-old woman’s heart rate should be between 95 and 162 beats per minute during moderate exercise. Today, there is no limit on heart rate for pregnant women. You should always avoid over-exertion, but you do not need to keep your heart rate below any particular number.
Your body goes through many different changes during pregnancy. It is important to pay attention to any physical changes you notice, including when you exercise, and talk to your doctor about any concerns you have.