The days when pregnancy was considered a time to "take it easy" are over. Lucky for you (or unlucky, if you're a member of the couch potato club in good standing…or sitting), the official advice of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reads like a personal trainer's pep talk: Keep exercising during pregnancy, right up until delivery.
In fact, for women who like to exercise, there's never been a better time to be pregnant. Today, ACOG recognizes that working out is a vital part of staying healthy, and recommends that women with normal pregnancies get 30 minutes or more a day of moderate exercise on most (if not all) days.
What's the safest way to fill that prescription? By following these basic pregnancy exercise ground rules.
Stop at the doctor's, before the gym. Before you lace up your sneakers and hit the running trail, get the green light from your practitioner. Chances are excellent you'll get it — most women do. But if you have any medical or pregnancy complications, your practitioner may limit your exercise program, restrict it entirely, or — if you have gestational diabetes — even encourage you to be a little more active. Also make sure you're on the same page of the exercise glossary with your practitioner. It's important to explain your normal fitness routine and what moderate means to you: One woman's easy workout might feel like a marathon to another, and vice versa. If you're in good health, your practitioner will likely encourage you to stay with your regular routine as long as you feel up to it, with certain modifications (especially if your regular routine has included pregnancy-taboo sports, like ice hockey).
Pick a fun pregnancy exercise. How you exercise is almost beside the point: While no- or low-impact activities such as swimming or stationary cycling are ideal, most recreational activities can also be safe and effective. What's important is that you choose something you like doing, which will make it easier to stick with — particularly on days when you have no energy, feel the size of a Subaru, or both. Some women find it helpful to pick a workout with a social component, from a prenatal yoga class to a romantic after-dinner walk. If you enjoy the company (and even if you don't enjoy the exercise quite as much), you're more likely to keep it up.
Avoid rough pregnancy exercises. Because your growing abdomen will affect your sense of balance, ACOG suggests women avoid sports that come with a higher risk of falling or abdominal injury. These include gymnastics, downhill skiing, ice skating, vigorous racket sports (play doubles instead of singles), or horseback riding, as well as contact sports such as ice hockey, soccer, or basketball, and cycling in the latter part of your pregnancy.
Avoid high-altitude sports during pregnancy. Unless you're living at high altitudes, avoid any activity that takes you up more than 6,000 feet. On the flip(per) side, scuba diving, which poses a risk of decompression sickness for your baby, is also off-limits, so you'll have to wait until you're no longer carrying a passenger to take your next dive.
Follow your morphing body. Expect your routines to change as your body does. You'll need to modify your pregnancy workouts as your sense of balance shifts, and you'll probably also have to slow down to avoid taking a spill (especially once you can no longer see your feet). Also expect workouts to seem different, even if you've been doing a particular routine for years. If you're a walker, for example, you'll feel more pressure on your hips and knees as your pregnancy progresses. Even if you're gaining a sensible amount of weight, your joints and ligaments are loosening, making your body act — and feel — different. You'll also have to accommodate your pregnant body by avoiding any exercise that requires you to lie flat on your back or stand without moving (like some yoga and tai chi poses do) after the first trimester. Both can restrict your blood flow.
Start slow…then focus on maintenance. If you're new at this, start slowly. And if you're already a gym rat, remember that while pregnancy is a great time to maintain your fitness level, it's not a time to increase it. Don't worry: You can get back to setting new personal bests once your baby arrives. Reach your goal without pushing too hard. The goal is to work your way up to 30 minutes a day, but how you get there is up to you. As far as your heart (and general health) is concerned, three ten-minute walks sprinkled throughout the day are just as beneficial as 30 minutes on the treadmill. (For that matter, even non-exercise activity — like 15 minutes of vacuuming and 15 minutes of light yard work — counts toward your daily goal.) And you're safe to work out for up to an hour, as long as you listen to your body: Moms-to-be fatigue sooner than they used to, and tired bodies are more apt to injure themselves. Plus, overexertion could lead to other problems (dehydration, for one, and lack of oxygen to the baby if you're short of breath for another).
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