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The Facts on Exercise and Pregnancy

By Raymond Kelly

There are many benefits for women who wish to exercise through their pregnancy. Exercise can:

• Increase energy levels

• Help prevent feelings of discomfort, clumsiness, and unattractiveness

• Improve circulation, reduce swelling and formation of varicose veins in the lower legs

• Help tone muscles allowing the body to return to its pre-pregnancy state much faster

• Improve posture, help create fewer backaches

The major concerns of training while pregnant include:

• fetal hypoxia (lack of oxygen for the baby)

• fetal hyperthermia (internal temperature gets too hot)

• reduced carbohydrate supply to the fetus (baby doesn’t get enough food)

These should only be concerns if you don’t exercise intelligently. Ask your doctor for further information when obtaining your medical clearance.

The basic guidelines

• Obtain a medical clearance prior to beginning an exercise program.

• Never let your heart rate get over 135 beats per minute for a sustained period. This can vary from person to person, but a good rule of thumb is to reduce the intensity if you cannot comfortably hold a conversation with someone while exercising.

• Balance will be a problem as you get bigger, so always keep both feet on the ground (no jumping, skipping, lunging, stepping, etc).

• Non-weight bearing exercise (cycling, swimming) is preferable to weight-bearing exercise (jogging).

• Exertion levels should be determined on an individual basis. Someone who has had a long exercise history and a high fitness level will be able to tolerate higher intensities without affecting the fetus.

• Avoid strenuous exertion during the first trimester. If you haven’t exercised before, walking is a great way to start.

• Increases in exercise quantity and quality should be very gradual for previously inactive women.

• Avoid exercise or positioning of the individual in the supine (lying on the floor, face up) posture, particularly in late gestation (due to decreased cardiac output).

• Avoid exercise in warm/humid environments.

• Drink liquids before and after exercise to avoid dehydration. Wear loose cotton clothing.

• Do not exercise when fatigued, particularly in late gestation. Never exercise to exhaustion.

• Periodic rest intervals may be helpful to minimize hypoxia or heat stress to the fetus.

• Pregnancy requires an increase of 300 calories per day, so if you are exercising you require even more. Ensure you have an adequate diet.

© Raymond Kelly

Raymond Kelly has worked extensively in the health and fitness industry for over 15 years. He has a degree in exercise science and is a Level 2 strength and conditioning coach. For more information, go to

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