Mama, get moving! Benefits of exercise during pregnancy

Not terribly long ago, the theory among health care providers as well as many friends and family members of mothers-to-be was that your pregnancy was a time to take it easy on the fitness routine and enjoy a phase of relative couch-potato-dom.
However, more current studies reveal that it is not only perfectly safe to keep up a regular exercise plan, but that it is important to bust the myths about supposed dangers associated with exercising while pregnant.
“You need to be physically active during pregnancy. It has terrific benefits that are associated with a better pregnancy outcome and even shorter labors. It’s a win-win for baby and for mom,” says high-risk pregnancy expert Laura Riley, MD, spokeswoman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in an article published by webmd.com.
That said, there are certainly some obvious risks that could come with contact sports, especially late in the pregnancy term. Lying flat on your back for extended periods of time after the first trimester is also a no-no. This position puts pressure on a major vein called the vena cava, which will reduce blood to your heart and may diminish blood flow to your brain and uterus, making you dizzy, short of breath, or nauseated, according to an article called “The 13 Rules of Safe Pregnancy Exercise,” published by the BabyCenter medical advisory board.
It is also true that significant spikes to the mother’s core body temperature could be damaging to the fetus. But as long as Mom stays properly hydrated, avoids a few positions (that probably aren’t comfortable anyway) and is okay taking a break from a few of the most physically demanding sports, there are plenty of ways to stay fit and active.
Not all exercise is created equal. Low- to medium-impact activities like yoga, jogging, swimming, walking or hiking and weight training are probably going to be more comfortable for most women than horseback riding, soccer (or other contact field sports), downhill skiing, or mountain biking. Pretty obvious, right?
However, each woman and each pregnancy is unique. The best piece of advice, therefore, might be to have an open and honest conversation with your health care provider about your exercise plans through pregnancy. Together you can develop a program that can keep you and your baby healthy.
Why? For fitness buffs, it’s easy to understand the benefits of regular exercise, because you are used to them even when you aren’t pregnant. But for those who don’t have an established fitness routine, the thought of adding yet another new ritual to your pregnant life’s already hectic and overturned schedule can be daunting. Or perhaps you’re experiencing morning sickness, trouble sleeping, or mood swings making you feel extra grumpy, lazy or sad. It may be hard to imagine that something you’re not used to or don’t feel like you’re good at could help solve the problem.
But as it turns out, regular exercise throughout pregnancy can actually help alleviate many of these undesirable symptoms and ultimately help you feel more positive and in control of the changes happening in your body.
Expert medical researchers at the Mayo Clinic say that during pregnancy exercise can ease or prevent back pain, fatigue and other physical discomforts; relieve stress; boost mood and energy levels, improve quality sleep; prevent excessive weight gain; and increase stamina and muscle strength, among other things.
“Exercise during pregnancy might also reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and pregnancy-related high blood pressure, as well as lessen the symptoms of postpartum depression,” according to an article published by the Mayo Clinic staff titled “Pregnancy and exercise: Baby let’s move!”.
So how to get started?
First, consider the activities you enjoy and make a list of the exercise options that motivate you. It’s always easier to do something you love, so start there. Talk to your health care providers, friends, family members, fellow parents and social networks for advice. They may have suggestions that you hadn’t considered or ways you can challenge and motivate yourself along the way.
Join a group or class specifically designed for prenatal exercise. Many gyms, yoga or pilates studios, dance classes or swim clubs offer special classes for pregnant women with instructors who are aware of the challenges and obstacles at different stages of pregnancy.
Be realistic with your goals and your ability. Even though it may be challenging to listen to your body when it’s going through new things every day, stay modest and align your goals appropriately. It’s normal to feel tired more quickly or feel like you’re working harder and going slower during a run or other routine. Try to gauge your performance not based on your previous best times, weights or distances, but on your energy expelled.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, most pregnant women can (and should) safely engage in 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise on most, if not all, days of the week provided they has their healthcare provider’s approval.
Along with the obvious changes in shape and weight come changes in hormonal composition throughout pregnancy (and after birth). The hormone relaxin, for example, causes ligaments that support your joints to stretch to help in the labor and delivery process. Naturally, ligaments throughout your whole body are affected, which can present an increased risk of muscle strain or injury.
Pregnant women’s balance is also challenged, understandably, with the dramatic change in weight and distribution over a relatively short period of time.
It’s a good idea to be aware of these minor challenges and variables when it comes to exercising while pregnant, but they are far from reasons that would prevent you from getting a good workout in. When weighed against the benefits exercise can provide to mothers as well as fetuses, it’s an easy choice. 

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