As I embark on my 40th week of pregnancy, I reflect back at the past 9+ month journey of growing my little boy and the role that exercise has played in my life. I’ve been a regular exerciser since I was 14 years old. It all started when I made a pledge to get fit and trim for my last year of Jr. High School in 98′. Back then, my workouts involved running on the school’s cross country team and 30-60 minute workout tapes 5-6 days a week. Remember Buns of Steel? Yeah, I did those. In hindsight, I wonder what my parents thought of their teenage daughter regularly exercising in the living room post dinner? Regardless, this “training” from a young age, set the stage for a lifelong commitment to regular exercise.
Today I enjoy riding my bike, swimming laps, dancing, running (more like hobbling these days), power-walking, fitness classes and strength training. As my pregnancy progressed, I had to limit the intensity of my workouts a bit due to some unexpected health complications and also the sheer fact of not physically being able to do all of the things that I could before becoming pregnant (the cardio dance classes stopped early on!). Exercise is a release for me; both mentally and physically and it is something that I do to take care of myself. I also enjoy it.
So, why would I stop exercising once I got pregnant?
Being pregnant comes with a host of potential “excuses” for giving up exercise and also a few “perks”. Here are a few of my favorites: everyone telling you to “take a load off & relax”, this can get to your head. Not being able to lift heavy objects (while valid….to an extent). Your 5 lb. weights are not considered “heavy” ladies. Swollen feet – this is common in the last trimester and truly uncomfortable, but just loosen up your laces or get a new pair of loose fitting gym shoes.
So your doc told you that you have a heart murmur. This is very common for pregnant women and often not dangerous, which means you can still exercise. I have V-Tach and can still exercise in moderation, so chances are you will be fine. Check with your physician. Sciatic nerve issues – this really is painful and also common in pregnant women due to the relaxin being produced in your body to make room for baby! So be sure to stretch well and see a physical therapist if needed. I did and it was helpful.
A few other common excuses for not exercising during pregnancy: cramping in your legs, people wanting to take care of you so you don’t have to “work too hard” – I had a man unload my grocery cart last week because of my “condition” and many doors have been opened and items fetched over the past 9+ months (nice perk of pregnancy, but still not an excuse to skip out on exercise). My personal favorite, the additional daily calories you get to consume paired with the fact that people constantly remind you that you are “eating for two” (though one of you is the size of a blueberry at first). If you do let this get to your head (like I did at times), the more reason to exercise!
The thought of gaining weight to support the growing fetus in your belly could be another excuse for not continuing exercise. I mean, hey, you’re going to gain the weight anyway, you know? At least this is how my justifying mind works! However, with all of these potential excuses, the benefits of exercise during pregnancy far outweighs the alternative if your physician says you are able to do so. So lace up your shoes, put on your favorite tunes and get moving!
The top 15 benefits of exercise during pregnancy (in my humble opinion)
- Improved mental health
- Reduced chance of gestational diabetes
- Increased energy levels
- Better chances for healthy eating habits
- Reduced chance of excessive weight gain (don’t pay attention to the pregnancy apps as everyone gains weight differently)
- Sounder sleep- sleep is difficult when you are pregnant, especially in the third trimester. Exercise helps!
- Improved confidence and self-esteem
- Faster rebound time post delivery
- Improved agility and strength (what if your baby is 9+ lb, you are going to want toned arms, trust me!!)
- Easier to get back into your exercise routine postpartum
- Improved circulation: when you exercise you transport more oxygen to your cells
- Clear & toned skin: a good sweat increases circulation (per above) which results in clearer, toned, youthful looking skin
- Improved sex drive- you may not feel super sexy while pregnant and exercise boosts your confidence and may just give you an extra incentive to get between the sheets with your honey
- Endurance for the big day…labor and delivery is an athletic event people!
- A healthy baby!
*Most doctors do not recommend starting new exercises once pregnant so be sure to check with your OB or PCP before exercising
Did you continue to exercise during your pregnancy? What were some of the benefits you noticed? Leave us a comment below.