Dr Swapna Misra, Additional Director, Obstetrics and Gynecology Fortis Hospital, Mohali expresses the importance of exercise during the various stages of their lifeteime, especially before and during pregnancy.
She says, “Exercising during pregnancy is beneficial not only for the expectant mother but also for the growing fetus. The effects of exercise at this time can be seen immediately and last a lifetime. Unless a woman suffers from a medical condition, she should continue doing moderate exercise every day.”
During the first trimester, it’s common for most women to feel nausea, light headedness, experience a loss of appetite AND exercise is that last thing that shows up on the desire- list. Even though it can be a challenge to exercise when feeling this way, studies have found that moderate exercise can actually increase the speed at which one moves through this “feeling nauseating all the time” transition.
Dr Misra suggests that in a normal healthy pregnancy, the exercise that the expectant mother did before becoming pregnant can usually be continued throughout the pregnancy, with modifications as the pregnancy progresses. Moderate exercise is recommended for 30 minutes a day, 4 – 5 times each week; strenuous exercise can be performed in pregnancy under a physician’s supervision.
It would be motivating for expectant mother to know the benefits of exercise during pregnancy. Here are some of these benefits,
- Boosts Energy – Carrying a growing fetus can take away a lot of energy leaving the pregnant woman tired and listless. Exercising strengthens the cardiovascular system and circulatory system,giving the mother more energy through the day. It also strengthens and tones the muscles so that the effort needed for any activity is reduced.
- Improves Sleep– Exercise gives a boost of energy;but it also tires the muscles,making it easier to fall asleep at the end of the day. This is important, especially in the later stages of pregnancy where finding a comfortable position to sleep in becomes difficult.
- Lowers Risk of Pregnancy-related Complications– Regular exercise can help reduce the risk of complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Even if the mother is suffering from these complications, regular exercise can help manage the condition and treat it.
- Reduces Discomfort– During pregnancy, the muscles shift and the skin stretches to accommodate the growing fetus. Regular exercise can help strengthen the muscles and reduce the aches and pains associated with pregnancy. While walking improves circulation, swimming strengthens the abdominal muscles.
- Makes Childbirth Easier– Childbirth is considered by many to be the most painful part of pregnancy.A natural delivery requires stamina, focus and determination. Exercise tones the muscles and builds stamina, thus making it easier to push the baby out. Exercise is also said to reduce the time taken for child birth.
- Fights Stress– Pregnancy impacts the hormones and this can lead to mood swings and depression. Exercise boosts serotonin or happy hormone levels helping the mother to remain in high spirits and fight stress.
- Gets the mother back into shape after childbirth– Pregnancy is characterized by weight gain that can be difficult to lose after child birth. However,regular exercise helps to control the weight gain during pregnancy and increase the weight loss post delivery. This is because the muscles have been toned throughout pregnancy, and the weight gain is more muscle oriented than fat.
Dr Misra recommends the following exercises.
- Swimming is one of the best and the safest exercise for pregnant women.It is beneficial because of the following reasons:
- It has immense cardiovascular benefits
- Large muscles groups are exercised in the process
- Helps reduce swelling and inflammation
- Helps with low back pain and relieves the stress on your spine which is caused due to the extra weight you are carrying around.
- Walking is one of the safest exercise during any trimester as long as the woman does not over exert herself. Walking promotes blood circulation, improves heart healthand is all around a good exercise for pregnant women. The key is to invest in a good pair of shoes for walking so that the knees and legs are steady and they support the upper body properly.
- Stretching is recommended in the later trimesters.This may be a little more difficult to manage than other exercises as the body becomes heavier and movements may be limited. However, basic stretching exercises can be done to improve mobility and circulation.
- Weight training exercises: Certain exercises utilize the weight of the body rather than external weight. One can also use lighter weights to help keep muscle tone and strength. A few examples of these exercises are:
- Side leg lifting: Lie on one side and lift one leg up slightly higher than hip height. The forearm can be used for balance in this case. Keep lifting the leg and hold it there for a few seconds and do the same motions a few times for repetitions.
- Curling and lifting: Sit on a chair with the back straight with 2 to 4 kilo weights in each hand, and curl up your hands up to the shoulders. Sit with the legs spread apart, but comfortably. Also start the curl with the fore- arms at a 90° angle from the elbows.
- Yoga and meditation is possibly one of the most well suited regimens during pregnancy. Pranayama and meditation not only help one to be more at peace, but also manage many of the changes occurring in the body in a much better fashion.
Considering the fact that most pregnant women are unaware of the limits to which they can push their bodies in regard to exercise, Dr Misra urges them to listen to their body!She urges them to be alert and conscious of various signs which indicate over –exertion. These signs include : feeling hot or shortness of breath; feeling faint; headache; nausea or vomiting; leg pain; chest pain; vaginal bleeding; painful contractions/ abdominal pains.
Dr Swapna Misra strongly advises, “ Pregnant women who have been leading a sedentary lifestyle should not begin an exercise practice during pregnancy. Pregnancy is NOT the time to start being active. Furthermore,women experiencing complicated or high risk pregnancies should avoid exercise. For example, patients with a heart condition or high blood pressure may need to avoid certain activities. All expectant mothers must consult a specialist or a physiotherapist who can give them a step by step guide as to the exercises they can do and the precautions that they need to take while performing them.As the pregnancy progresses, they should reassess the exercise program with the doctor on a regular basis.”
Dr Misra recommends that besides staying hydrated, all pregnant women who exercise to stay hydrated and whether they are exercising or not they should mildly (200-300 calories) increase the caloric intake.