Fitness, we are told, is an essential element of modern life that we neglect with the slightest excuse. After all, we’re into that part of the year when everyone’s New Year’s resolutions have been abandoned and their gym memberships unused. Fitness is harder than we like to admit to ourselves. Even if we like to feel that the physical exertion is within our abilities, the sheer commitment that a regular regime requires often surprises us.
Of course, the directive to ‘exercise more’ often comes to us under the assumption that we’re not in any ‘special circumstances’ at the time. That absolute physical fitness is attainable if we just work a little harder. One ‘special circumstance’ that seemingly puts paid to any exercise regime is pregnancy: the dangers of exercising when carrying a child are obvious, if not ingrained in our minds thanks to warnings on everything from alcohol to rollercoasters. Undue stress is bad for both mother and child, and late in pregnancy it’s simply very difficult to get around anyway. Exercise seems to be best kept to one side.
Reasons to Stay Fit
All the caution is not unfounded, but exercise is still as important as ever during pregnancy. In fact, you could argue that staying fit during pregnancy is more important than ever. No, you’re not going to be doing bench presses and looking to become a marathon runner, with pregnancy as a sort of side project. But you’re now staying fit for a second person, and having a good level of overall fitness is an advantage when it comes to getting around in late pregnancy, going into labour and actually delivering your child at the end of it all.
There are many other benefits, before you even get to the headstart that it gives you for getting back in shape, post-pregnancy. Exercise is prescribed for preventing gestational diabetes and can even ward off post-natal depression. (Oh, and pregnancy doesn’t preclude being race fit. Former world number one marathon runner Paula Radcliffe had her first child in 2007 and still competed in the 2008 Olympics. Becoming a competitive athlete as well as mother is unfortunately outside the scope of this guide).
Exercise should be planned (as good regimes often are) and they should also discussed with your doctor.
- If you have any other conditions or you’re simply attempting something that is inappropriately strenuous, a good doctor will advise you against the regime, or tell you how to tailor it to your needs;
- If you haven’t been exercising before pregnancy, you have to start a little more slowly than someone who has;
- Certain activities involve an injury risk whoever is playing them. Contact sports should also be avoided, and doctors specifically warn against Scuba diving for the risk of air bubbles forming in an infant baby’s circulatory system;
- Some exercises become prohibited as you advance through pregnancy. Cycling is a fantastic way to exercise, but the risk of a fall in the second half of your pregnancy is simply too great (especially as your weight distribution and balance will inevitably change);
- In general, gentle exercise is preferable: keep the strain off of your muscles, as thanks to the way your body prepares you for childbirth, you’re actually more susceptible to nasty strains.
There are many common exercise types that are particularly suited to the needs of pregnant women, so give any of the following a try:
- As a general point, you should exercise 3-4 times a week for 30 minutes a day;
- Walking is clearly one of the most easily accessible activities, something that can be done in any trimester and without endangering your knees and ankles (though being conscious of your posture in your second trimester, and avoiding steep inclines as you enter your third is crucial). It also gets you out of the house and allows you to visit family and friends – just remember to stay hydrated, because it can be harder than you’d think;
- A more vigorous exercise, a jog or short run is best kept to the first two trimesters, and you should only ever run on flat payments (and fall sideways if you do happen to fall!);
- Swimming is a great way to exercise in pregnancy, especially as water can support your entire body and take the strain off you for a little while. Antenatal sessions are a common feature of most swimming pool’s timetables;
- Mentioned earlier, Cycling can be great in the first two trimesters, but difficult later on. It may still be possible to get on an exercise bike, however;
- Yoga and Pilates are fabulous for pregnant women, though poses in both can be dangerous, putting too much strain on you (so always inform your instructor that you are pregnant). Both help you train your body and mind, which has obvious benefits when you’re going through pregnancy!