Healthista asked Jane Wake, Britain’s leading authority on pre-and postnatal exercise for the latest advice on pregnancy and exercise
Most women are told to continue doing what they’ve always done when it comes to exercise during their pregnancy. That often includes doing nothing if they weren’t an exerciser before they were pregnant. But research published this week in Psychology and Health has found that previously inactive women who took up exercise during their pregnancy improved both their mood and energy levels.
It adds to research from 2010 published in the Journal of Physiotherapy that found women who did an hour’s exercise (including aerobic exercise for 40 minutes, stretching for 10 and relaxing for ten) could improve their quality of life and pain levels. Meanwhile last year, a study found exercising three times a week for 30 minutes or more could not only help a mother’s heart health but also that of their babies.
What to do exercise-wise when you’re pregnant though can a minefield – from how hard to go to what changes to make during each trimester.
Healthista asked Jane Wake, Britain’s leading authority on pre- and postnatal exercise and founder of baby-a-wake.co.uk for the latest advice on pregnancy and exercise
‘As someone who trains pregnant women everyday this is yet another back up for something I already know – the benefits for women who exercise during pregnancy are enormous. We know women who exercise during pregnancy feel confident about themselves and their bodies.
‘Women are often told to put their feet up and do nothing – especially if they haven’t been exercisers in the past – but that is wrong. Guidelines issued three years ago by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) encourage all women to exercise even if they haven’t exercised before – as long as they don’t have a specific illness in pregnancy or pre-existing condition. If a woman is healthy and the pregnancy is healthy there is no reason she should start exercising in pregnancy and see her fitness rise during this time.
‘We’ve known for years that you can increase your levels of fitness during pregnancy quite safely so if you’re lacking energy and most women in pregnancy will have fatigue at some point, being fitter will help. Conversely if you’re feeling tired and lethargic never deprive yourself of sleep in order to exercise. Don’t exercise if you’re knackered but do exercise when you’re feeling okay to help you through those periods when you are tired.
What level should I be exercising at?
‘No one should be exercising at a high intensity during pregnancy. It’s best to exercise at a moderate level where you can say at least 2 – 3 sentences as you move. The general guideline is about 30 minutes of aerobic activity such as walking five times a week. Women who are really fit can probably go a little higher. This doesn’t change throughout the trimesters but in each trimester there are differences to take into consideration. The main things are:
First trimester Be careful about body temperature and make sure you don’t get too hot. For example the current summer weather means it may be detrimental to exercise on that day if you can’t control your body temperature.
Second trimester Various physiological effects occur most predominantly the surge in hormones that happens at around 19- 21 weeks. This is where joints become more lax and you have to be aware that sudden movements and changes in directions can cause injury. This is also why every woman should be doing core training (at all times and during pregnancy) to build up the muscles that support joints to help prevent injury and pain. For the second trimester you shouldn’t do any exercises lying on your back though. Other than that you can keep going as normal.
Third trimester guidelines We have research saying you can keep going at a moderate level where you can string two sentences together throughout pregnancy. But bear in mind you are working harder because you are carrying more weight. There is no reason why you can’t keep doing what you were doing as long as you listen to your body and respond to any aches and pains or fatigue with rest or by slowing down.
The biggest thing you can do for your body during pregnancy is to listen to it and not ignore any warning signs and also to train under the guidance of a professional who knows what they’re talking about – a lot of Pilates, yoga teachers and trainers don’t when it comes to exercise in pregnancy.
If you do nothing else – try this
Rocking the baby. This one movement, done daily during the pregnancy will help you connect to your baby, release back pain and feel better psychologically. How: Stand up with feet a little more than hip distance apart. Imagine holding a baby and rocking them. Rock over to your right side and turn your whole body up onto the toe of your left foot, turning the toes of the left foot inwards and turning your whole body to the right and then come back and do the same on the other side. Continue for five minutes side to side. As you move from side to side you’re rotating your hip joint in and turning your toe in that releases tension in the lower back.
Jane Wake is founder of body-a-wake.com and the creator of a pre and post-natal exercise double DVD pack (£15.99 available from baby-a-wake.co.uk). She is also fitness expert on ITV’s Daybreak and mum-of-two. Jane is also the author of the book The Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy MagBook £7.99 in newsagents now.
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