pregnant exercise

Exercise during pregnancy – what you need to know

Exercise during pregnancy has both short-term health outcomes, such as optimal delivery, and long-term health outcomes, such as protected health effects for baby and recovery postpartum for mum.

Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Women’s Health Expert, Esme Soan, takes us through the physiological changes in pregnancy and how these are taken into account when creating exercise programs for pregnant women. Exercise during pregnancy is so beneficial, let’s find out why!

Physiological changes in pregnancy

The physiological changes that occur in pregnancy are vast – every single system is affected, from cardiovascular to metabolic to musculoskeletal. Did you know blood volume increases by up to 50% during pregnancy? That’s the equivalent of a 1.25L bottle or more. This increase in blood is to facilitate the exchange of respiratory gases, nutrients and metabolites between mother and developing baby.

This increase in blood volume can result in:

– Increased heart rate, at rest and when exercising

– Deeper and more rapid breathing

– Resistance of the arteries to blood flow, which can result in common swelling in feet, ankles, fingers and wrists.

Other physiological changes include relaxin hormones, weight gain, centre of gravity changes and balance changes. So how do all of these changes affect a pregnancy exercise routine?

Exercise for pregnant women

These factors need to be taken into account when creating exercise programs for pregnant women. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist studies these physiological responses to exercise, and are excellently placed to create appropriate and safe exercise programming for those who are expecting.

Historically, exercise during pregnancy may have been considered risky, or have limitations of maximal heart rate or restrictions on positioning for exercises. However, research has rapidly increased our understanding of the importance of exercise prescription. Recommendations are now that pregnant women should aim to meet the prescribed physical activity levels of the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines: 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise, or a combination of both, per week.

All pregnant women should also be encouraged to include both aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises, and in particular, consider the importance of strength training for parenting.

Considerations for exercise during pregnancy include:

– Avoid raising body temperature too high – for example, reduce exercise level on hot or humid days, or move inside.

– Avoid Valsalva maneuver, such as lowering weights and increasing repetition ranges.

– Avoiding supine position (lying on your back) after 26 weeks – there are multiple other ways you can perform an exercise that may traditionally be performed on your back.

– Include appropriate abdominal wall exercises – NO crunches or planks – to help reduce dysfunction diastasis recti.

– Understand that training goals are adjusted in pregnancy to optimal pregnancy health, delivery and recovery – it’s not a time for peak performance.

– In addition, if you develop illness, injury or complication of pregnancy, talk with your doctor, midwife or Accredited Exercise Physiologist before continuing or restarting your exercise program.

Related article: How to exercise right for each trimester of pregnancy


Exercise is medicine in pregnancy

Accredited Exercise Physiologists use exercise as medicine to help with both supporting healthy and low risk pregnancies, but also in managing musculoskeletal pains (commonly pelvic girdle pain), urinary incontinence and pelvic floor dysfunction, gestational diabetes mellitus, gestational hypertension, mental health (perinatal anxiety and depression) and excessive gestational weight gain. Exercise is medicine!

Related article: The role of exercise for gestational diabetes

Related article: Perinatal depression – exercise can help

Related article: Exercise to battle postnatal depression


Find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist

This can all be very overwhelming for a first-time mum-to-be. For guidance and exercise programs specific to your unique body, see an Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

To find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist in your area, click here.

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Written by Esme Soan. Esme is the Principal Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Director at Pear Exercise Physiology.