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“We’ve had women continue to run and do marathons while pregnant,” says Collins, who works with prenatal exercise therapists in Portland, Ore., “but we don’t espouse that. Pregnant women aren’t always aware of the warning signals of overheating or dehydration.”
The new rules
No matter how fit you were before becoming pregnant, be sensible about your pregnancy exercise program. Consult your physician for guidance, and if you’ve been sedentary, start slowly.
“If you’re unconditioned, this is not the time to begin doing extremely heavy exercise,” says Robert McMurray, Ph.D., a professor of exercise, sports science and nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The best aerobic exercise for women who have not been active is swimming, water jogging or plain old walking, according to McMurray.
Follow these other basic rules:
Be consistent Three or more workouts a week is preferable to the occasional one.
Warm up and cool down Consider that a regular part of your exercise regimen.
Listen to your body If you start to feel dizzy or tired or short of breath, take a break.
Don’t push too hard In pregnancy, your body must work harder to deliver oxygen to the fetus. Take the “talk test” as you exercise — if you can carry on a conversation comfortably, you’re fine.
Watch your heart rate Although the heart rate normally increases by about 15 beats per minute during pregnancy, if it goes above 150 during exercise, you may be overdoing it. At that point, blood may be shunted away from the uterus and the fetal heart rate may lower or even rise.
Stay cool To avoid hyperthermia, stay hydrated and don’t work out in extreme outdoor heat or in a hot, stuffy room.
Now that you know exercise is good for you, on these pages we offer a great strength workout, starting on page 57, which will give you a full-body tone-up while conditioning the key abdominal and pelvic muscles that will be most taxed during pregnancy and delivery. Designed by Gail Black, R.N., a certified personal trainer and Susan Cannady, R.N., co-founders of Fitness for Two in Huntington Beach, Calif., the program can be used throughout all trimesters with minor modifications.
“Women should prepare for labor just like any athletic event that utilizes strength, stamina and relaxation,” says Black. As a bonus, you’ll keep your arms and legs looking great, even as your belly gets bigger.
We’ve also included expert tips, along with important precautions, on some great cardiovascular exercise you can do indoors as well as out this winter, including swimming, cardio work on machines, hiking and a variety of snow sports activities. Don’t be intimidated by the cold; winter is actually the perfect season to exercise, according to Collins. “In contrast to summer, you don’t have to be concerned about overheating,” he says. “While you’re pregnant, your core body temperature is about a degree higher, so you tend to warm up quickly and stay warm.”
Remember: Pregnancy is not the time to improve your fitness, but to maintain it. Start exercising now, and when you’re in labor or carrying around your new little bundle of joy, you’ll be glad you did.