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Safe Exercise While Pregnant?

Two weeks after I joined a gym, I found out that I'm pregnant. What kind of exercise would you recommend?

Answer (Published 9/20/2004)

Reviewed on 3/09/2010

Congratulations on your pregnancy! I'm assuming that since you just joined a gym you haven't been working out on a regular basis. Exercise during pregnancy is definitely recommended as long as you're healthy and your physician approves. It can make you feel better physically and emotionally, help with weight control and speed your recovery after the baby is born. Pregnant women who are accustomed to working out generally can continue with their regular exercise programs, providing that they have no health problems. However, even early in pregnancy women may find that they tire more easily during exercise than they did previously.

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Fitness expert, Dan Bornstein recommends walking and yoga as the two most appropriate exercises for pregnant women who aren't accustomed to working out. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends stationary cycling and aquatic exercises in a swimming pool as good non-weight-bearing exercises during pregnancy. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking or low-impact aerobics classes are also beneficial, as long as they are comfortable (bike riding outdoors isn't a good idea since pregnancy-related changes in weight distribution, balance and coordination increase the risk of falling).

Here are some other recommendations from the ACSM: 

  • Avoid exercising while lying down on your stomach or your back after the first trimester of pregnancy.
  • Make sure that you are well hydrated and drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise.
  • Avoid high heat and humidity, especially during the first trimester when the fetus is undergoing its most important growth.
  • Stop exercising if you're fatigued, develop persistent pain or experience any vaginal bleeding; check with your doctor if regular contractions occur more than 30 minutes after exercise (possibly a sign of pre-term labor).
  • Avoid heavy weightlifting and any activities that require straining.
  • Avoid exposure to extremes of air pressure, as in high altitude exercise (unless you're accustomed to it) or scuba diving.
  • Don't increase the intensity of your workout beyond pre-pregnancy levels.
  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. Sedentary pregnant women need about 3,000 calories per day during the second and third trimesters; if you're physically active, your caloric needs will be higher to make up for the calories burned up during your workout.

 Use common sense, but try to keep moving during your pregnancy. You'll probably feel better as a result.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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