There are many benefits to be gained by exercising and participating in sports while you are pregnant. As in any period of your life, these activities make you feel better and can help you maintain or gain physical flexibility, tone, and strength. Exercise can be an important element in adjusting to the changes your body is going through and in reducing the discomforts of pregnancy.
Discuss exercise and sports with your doctor/midwife before you begin or continue any activity. They may choose to recommend a specific program for you to follow.
Always follow common exercise and physical activity guidelines. These include maintaining a regular frequency (at least three times a week), beginning any program gradually, including warm-up and cool-down periods, and stopping activity when overexerted or injured.
Specific concerns during pregnancy include:
Heart Rate - Monitoring your heart rate while exercising becomes even more important when you're pregnant. Due to your extra weight, you will reach your target heart rate quicker. Check your heart rate every few minutes and do not exceed 140 beats per minute. [Editor's note: If you have been training previously to pregnancy, you may exceed this heart rate. For information, read Can I keep working out?]
Center of Gravity - The posture and curve of your spine may change as your abdomen enlarges. This shifts your center of gravity toward your back and can alter your balance. Use caution when getting onto a bicycle or participating in other sports that require balance.
Overheating - There is some evidence that high body temperature may cause birth defects. A fetus has no means, such as perspiration or respiration, of releasing heat. Make sure your temperature doesn't exceed 101 degrees Fahrenheit when you're physically active, and be sure to drink plenty of liquids to prevent overheating and dehydration.
Symptoms of Maternal or Fetal Distress - Always stop exercising and promptly notify your provider if you experience abdominal pain or cramping, vaginal bleeding, or unusual discharge during or after exercise or participation in sports.
Overall, it isn't recommended that you take up new sports when you are pregnant. Also avoid any sporting activity that may result in a fall. Also be cautious of activity in high altitudes, such as hiking or skiing, where the decreased oxygen level could be harmful to your developing baby.
Guidelines on Specific Sports
Walking - This is usually the most strenuous exercise a doctor/midwife will recommend if you were not physically active before you became pregnant. Walking does not have to be fast-paced and it can be done with your partner and friends.
Swimming - Because it is not a weight-bearing exercise, swimming is considered an ideal activity during pregnancy.
Jogging and Tennis - If you participated in these activities before pregnancy, it is usually acceptable to continue them. Be aware, however, that your larger size and the need to urinate more frequently may diminish your usual ability and enjoyment as your pregnancy progresses.
Snow Skiing - This activity is not recommended because of the risk associated with severe injury or falls (which may be increased by your altered center of gravity) and the high altitude.
Water Skiing and Surfing - Because of the increased risk of abdominal injury, falling with terrific force, you should avoid these sports altogether.
Reprinted with permission from Her Healthcare.