Why you simply MUST exercise during pregnancy
Pregnancy is one of the wonders of the earth. It is such a magical occurrence, yet at the same time is extremely tiring, both physically and mentally. Oftentimes the last thing we want to do is to EXERCISE!! All we care about is getting through the day without being sick. Exercise and pregnancy comes with many barriers. So many restrictions and fears with many PTs, classes and gyms not allowing you to participate because you are pregnant. The fitness industry is already a minefield in terms of figuring out what you should or shouldn't be doing to get fit, throw “pregnancy” into the mix and you feel like you need a degree to even begin.
I’ve been there. Having exercised through 1 pregnancy and currently exercising through my 2nd I have learnt a lot first hand. The topic interested me so much that I have received specialist training in both pre and post natal fitness!
Firstly I want to make a REALLY REALLY big point. Not only is exercise beneficial to you, your health, body image, mental health etc etc BUT it is also REALLY beneficial to your unborn child and can help reduce many of the complications mothers face throughout the trimesters. So let's dive into exactly WHY exercising whilst pregnant is really beneficial. After that lets tackle how you can get started SAFELY.
How exercise reduces complications
There are many common complications that we face during pregnancy, many of which can have devastating effects if not managed correctly. One of the most common complications is gestational diabetes. Did you know that exercise can help reduce the symptoms of gestational diabetes?1
Gestational diabetes is when a mother develops diabetes during pregnancy when she did not have it before, it is associated with elevated levels of blood sugar. If sugar levels are not kept under control and remain elevated it can result in a larger infant resulting in a higher risk of requiring c section. Exercise helps reduce blood sugar levels by using the sugar as an energy source. Current prescriptions are for a minimum of 30-60 minutes of moderate resistance and aerobic training at least 3 times per week. Another complication associated with unmanaged gestational diabetes but also a complication in itself is preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia is a serious condition that can lead to preterm births or at worse deaths. The cause is unknown but there are factors that put mothers at risk such as obesity, being over 35 and first birth. It is the leading cause of perinatal morbidity in the modern world. Exercise can help reduce some of the risk factors associated with preeclampsia meaning that by regularly exercising you are less likely to develop it2. However, there is a lack of supporting evidence to suggest that exercising can help reduce the symptoms of preeclampsia if it is developed, unlike gestational diabetes.
Another major complication during pregnancy is one not so widely spoken about but can impact us all. Depression is most commonly associated with the postnatal period, however, it can also occur during. Oftentimes during our pregnancies we can shut ourselves off from the outside world and go inward. There are many reasons for this, sometimes it feels like the easy option when everything feels so hard when we are pregnant. Sometimes we feel judged or misunderstood by others who have not experienced pregnancy themselves. We can feel less valued and purposeful, often having to give up work due to fatigue. All of these reasons amongst many others can lead to depression. Exercise is one of the top non medical prescriptions for depression and it works even if you are pregnant! By getting out and exercising you release positive hormones which lift the mood. We feel energised and purposeful and are ignited!! Going to specific pregnancy fitness classes is a great way to keep fit and also grow your social circle.
Where do I start?
Hopefully by now you are convinced that exercising during pregnancy is good for you and have learnt that it can help prevent complications and also help reduce the symptoms of some. So where to start!!? Lets keep this simple and run through the top 5 rules for staying safe exercising whilst pregnant.
Number #1 = Avoid lying flat on your back for extended periods of time especially after 16 weeks
Number #2 = Match exercise intensity to your ability. It is typically advisable to avoid strenuous activity. This is completely dependent on an individual. As a rule of thumb you should be able to hold a conversation.
Number #3 = Be aware that you are now more flexible than before, meaning that your risk of injury is much greater. Avoid forcing any stretches and ensure you warm up well before exercise.
Number #4 = Keep lifting!!! Don't give up the weights. In the first trimester you can keep pushing like you were beforehand but later in the pregnancy it is advisable to reduce the weight, focus on higher reps and carry out lifts that are less risky like the snatch and overhead squat (unless you are olympic level in which case crack on!!)
Number #5 = Stay consistent by prioritising exercise. Treat it as an investment into a better pregnancy and birth plus a quicker bounceback. PRICELESS!!!