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Pregnancy and Exercise

To all your soon-to-be mummas out there, this one is for you. For many, the topic of working out during pregnancy has a big fat question mark, and you are probably wondering… what to expect when you’re expecting. The main thing to remember is that not all pregnancies are created equal, and what worked for your BFF or Kim Kardashian may not work for you. As you progress through your pregnancy, your body goes through drastic changes, and these changes and experiences are unique to each and every woman.

I often hear from both lines of work that my patients and clients are either stopping or drastically reducing their physical activity during pregnancy. Until I walk in their shoes, I will not fully understand the mindset that many soon-to-be mummas hold. With all pregnant women, their unborn child’s well-being is their number one priority, even if this means sacrificing their own mental and physical well-being, and this for all, is nonnegotiable.

With this is mind, I would really like to shed the light on how monitored and individualised exercise programs are extremely beneficial to both mum and baby. All women who are pregnant and without complications should be encouraged to participate in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises as part of a healthy lifestyle during their pregnancy.

Now this is not to say I am encouraging one hundred chest-to-floor burpees or marathon training, but instead, an adjusted version of what you were already doing prior. The benefits of exercises are abundant and remains just as important during pregnancy, both physically and mentally. Benefits of exercise during pregnancy include:

- Increased energy

- Reduced back and pelvic pain

- Reduced complications including pre-eclampsia and pregnancy-induced hypertension

- Preparation for physical demands of labour

- Faster recuperation after delivery

- Prevention and management of urinary incontinence

- Improved posture

- Improved circulation to reduce swelling

- Weight control

- Stress relief

- Reduced risk of anxiety and depression

- Increased ability to cope with physical demands of motherhood

These are but a few or the many benefits of exercise. Before beginning exercise during pregnancy consult with you doctor about what exercise is best for you. Your body undergoes incredible changes during pregnancy which may affect your ability/level of safe exercise and may require a modified program.

Women produce a hormone called ‘relaxin’ which is unique to pregnancy only. This hormone allows for movement of your pelvis and other joints of the body to adjust for the growth of your baby. This means that you have slightly less stability of your joints than pre-pregnancy and need to be careful with high-impact, jolting, and unstable exercises such as some plyometric and running type training.

In addition to this, your resting heart rate during pregnancy is already elevated above the pre-pregnancy norm, hence you need to pay more attention to target heart rate. Talk to your doctor to find out more about safe heart rate targets.

During the second trimester your blood pressure drops, so it is important to avoid rapid changes of position and exercises on your back to avoid unwanted dizzy spells. For example, burpees, plank holds, crunches, jump squats, long-distance running and some sports must be exercised with caution.

When beginning your fit pregnancy journey, take into account the following tips:

- Let your body guide you. Our bodies talk to us and give us warning signs for when to stop, but also give us positive signs for when to keep going.

- Despite what Dr Google and your best friend may say, ALWAYS be guided by your doctor, physiotherapist or healthcare professional. Not one pregnancy is the same as another, and very few pregnancies align with the ‘textbook’ pregnancy.

- Do at least thirty minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days of the week if you are healthy and not experiencing any complications, and a modified low-intensity program if you are experiencing problems.

- Start from the inside out by activating your deep core stabilisers, which are otherwise called the ‘pelvic floor’. The proper activation of these muscles allows for a strong foundation to support you during and after your pregnancy. Pretend you are busting to get to the bathroom and you have to really concentrate on holding your pee. Voila, there you have it ladies, the pelvic floor doing its thang,

The safest exercises that provide the highest benefits during pregnancy include walking, swimming, cycling, jogging, Pilates, modified yoga, pelvic floor training, pregnancy-specific exercise and Barre classes, and modified and guided weights, gym-based and interval training. You have your whole life to increase the intensity and push your body to the limits, but pregnancy is not this time. Always avoid pushing yourself to exhaustion, unaccustomed weight-lifting, high-temperatures and heavy sweating, contact sports, high-balance demanding exercises, high-altitude, and pushing yourself when you are unwell.

Always be sure to be guided by the advice of your doctor during your pregnancy to find an exercise program that is tailored to you, to do what’s best for you and your baby.

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