Cardio, aerobic, resistance exercises during pregnancy maintain fitness, ease birth

Instructor Patty Grill leads a postpartum workout class at Community Hospital Fitness Pointe in Munster. 

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for all women, including those who are pregnant.

“There are multiple benefits attributed to exercise during pregnancy,” said Dr. Jeannette Colon-Marin, an OB-GYN specialist with Porter Health Care System.

“Most of them are the same benefits of exercise in nonpregnant women. Exercise improves cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, agility, balance and speed."

It keeps gestational weight gain in check and reduces musculoskeletal discomforts, such as back pain, Colin-Marin said, and also reduces the risks of developing various pregnancy-related complications, including pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes.

According to Patty Grill, pre- and postnatal specialist at Community Hospital Fitness Pointe in Munster, the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women without medical complications exercise for a least 30 minutes every day, if possible.

The benefits include a boost in energy; improved mood, posture and sleep; increased muscle tone, strength and endurance; and a better ability to cope with labor and delivery.

Besides that, women who exercise during pregnancy have fewer complications during delivery; reduced stress, tension and anxiety; better balance and self-image; and get back in shape more easily after giving birth.

Colon-Marin said the ideal exercise routine during pregnancy consists of activities that improve cardiorespiratory (aerobic exercise) and musculoskeletal (resistive exercise) status.

Exercises that activate large muscle groups in a rhythmic and continuous fashion (walking, jogging, swimming, stationary cycling, low-impact aerobics or rowing) and that maintain strength, core muscles and flexibility are preferred.

“Women can continue most of their pre-pregnancy physical activities or modify them as pregnancy progress,” she said.

“However, some activities should be avoided. Activities with a high risk of falling, that require jumping movements and quick changes in direction, or with a high risk of abdominal trauma are contraindicated. Flexibility exercises should be individualized to reduce susceptibility to joint injury.”

Grill said that cycling, step or water aerobics, and yoga are good choices.

“As you get further along, you will need to modify your intensity, and if you have not been exercising prior to pregnancy then you should begin slowly and listen to your body,” she said.

“Start with five to 10 minutes and gradually increase. Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.”

Colon-Marin recommends that pregnant women who want to initiate an exercise program be evaluated by a gynecologist.

“There are medical and obstetrical factors that may increase their risk for maternal or fetal complications, which is why a complete evaluation should be performed," she said.

The evaluation should include medical history, current medical conditions and medications, past and present pregnancy-related complications, and current exercise and physical activity levels.

Regardless of the woman's previous fitness levels, exercise can be incompatible with some obstetric complications.

"Cervical insufficiency or cerclage, significant heart disease, twins at risk of premature labor, placenta previa and preterm labor are some of the conditions in which aerobic exercise" would not be recommended, she said.

Cease exercising and call your doctor if you experience vaginal bleeding, dizziness or faintness, shortness of breath, chest pain, uterine contractions, headache, leakage of amniotic fluid or reduced fetal movement.

It’s important to drink plenty of water, and keep your heart under 140 beats per minute. Grill also recommends avoid any exercising on your back after the first trimester.

And women shouldn't overdo it.

“They should try to maintain a good fitness level,” said Colon-Marin, “without trying to reach their peak fitness level or train for athletic competition.”