Suitable activities during pregnancy are brisk walking, swimming, indoor stationary cycling, prenatal yoga, and low-impact aerobics, guided by a certified aerobics instructor.
Some special exercises can help prepare for labor.
These carry little risk of injury, they benefit the entire body, and they can continue until delivery.
- Brisk walking
If pre-pregnancy exercise levels were low, a quick stroll around the neighborhood is a good way to start.
This will provide a cardiovascular workout without too much impact on the knees and ankles. It can be done for free, almost anywhere, and at any time during pregnancy.
Safety tip: As pregnancy progresses, your center of gravity changes, and you can lose your sense of balance and coordination.
Choose smooth surfaces, avoid potholes, rocks, and other obstacles, and wear supportive footwear.
Swimming and exercising in water give a better range of motion without putting pressure on the joints. The buoyancy offered by the water may offer some relief from the extra weight.
Swimming, walking in water, and aqua aerobics offer health benefits throughout pregnancy.
Safety tip: Choose stroke feels comfortable, and that does not strain or hurt your neck, shoulders, or back muscles, for example, breaststroke. A kickboard can help strengthen the leg and buttock muscles.
- Use the railing for balance when entering the water, to prevent slipping.
- Avoid diving or jumping, as this could impact the abdomen.
- Avoid warm pools, steam rooms, hot tubs, and saunas, to minimize the risk of overheating.
- Stationary cycling
Cycling on a stationary bike, also called spinning, is normally safe even for first-time exercisers. It helps raise the heart rate without putting too much stress on the joints.
The bike helps support body weight, and, because it is stationary, the risk of falling is low.
Later in pregnancy, a higher handlebar may be more comfortable.
Prenatal yoga classes keep the joints limber and help maintain flexibility.
Yoga strengthens muscles, stimulates blood circulation, and enhances relaxation. These may contribute to a healthy blood pressure during pregnancy.
The techniques learnt in yoga class can also help you to stay calm and in control during labor.
Safety tip: As pregnancy progresses, skip positions that could cause you to overbalance.
From the second semester, it is better to avoid poses that involve lying on the abdomen or flat on the back.
Lying on the back can cause the weight of the fetus and the uterus to put pressure on major veins and arteries and decrease blood flow to the heart.
It can be tempting to overstretch, as the hormone relaxin increases flexibility and joint mobility during pregnancy. Overstretching could lead to injury.
- Low-impact aerobics
Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and helps maintain muscle tone. Low-impact aerobics excludes jumping, high kicks, leaps, or fast running.
In low-impact exercise, one foot should stay on the ground at all times.
Compared with high-impact aerobics, the low-impact option:
- limits stress on the joints
- helps maintain balance
- reduces the risk of weakening the pelvic floor muscles
A weak pelvic floor increases the chances of urine leakage.
Some aerobics classes are designed especially for pregnant women. This can be a good way to meet other pregnant women, as well as exercising with an instructor who is trained to meet your specific needs.
Women who already attend a regular aerobics class should let the instructor know that they are pregnant so they can modify exercises and advise about suitable movements.
- Preparing for labor: Squatting and pelvic tilts
Brisk walking instead of jogging can reduce pressure on the lower back.
The American Pregnancy Association recommends some exercises specifically for pregnancy, as they prepare the body for labor and delivery.
Squatting: During labor, squatting may help to open the pelvis, so it may be a good idea to practice during pregnancy.
- Stand with the feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart, and the back straight.
- Lower yourself slowly, keeping your feet flat and your knees no further forward than your feet.
- Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then slowly push up.
Pelvic tilts: These can strengthen the abdominal muscles and help reduce back pain.
- Go down on the hands and knees.
- Tilt the hips forward and pull the abdomen in, arching the back.
- Hold for a few seconds.
- Release, and let the back drop.
- Repeat this up to 10 times.
Dr.Ruchi Tandon is a Gynecologist and Obstetrician , with over 13 years of clinical experience in handling pregnancies and normal deliveries. She is practicing in Max Smart superspeciality hospital, saket and Apollo hospitals, Delhi.