No Excuses Exercise Tips

Here's how to stay active even when you're uncomfortable and as big as a duplex.

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Countless studies confirm that prenatal exercise is healthy for you and your growing baby. But there's research, and there's reality. How can you go for a power walk when you have to stop every 10 minutes to pee? Or your feet are so swollen, they look like Nerf balls with toes? Or you're so nauseous that you just want to curl up on the couch?

"Pregnancy shakes up your whole life, including your workouts, so you have to get creative," says Louisville, Ky.-based childbirth educator Robin Elise Weiss, LCCE, author of Everything Pregnancy Fitness (Adams Media Corp.).

In most cases you can work around even the most annoying symptoms. You just need to tweak your exercise schedule and routine, as well as your mind-set. "Normally when you're not feeling well, you'll skip a workout, but when you're pregnant, you have to learn to live with it since you may not feel well for a prolonged period," says Tracey Mallett, creator of the 3 in 1 Pregnancy System DVD and a fitness instructor in South Pasadena, Calif. Here's how to stay active even when you're uncomfortable and as big as a duplex.

Obstacle Nausea

Solutions "Find a time of day when you're not as prone to feeling ill, and do something less strenuous," advises Weiss. "Instead of taking an early-morning Spinning class, do yoga in the late afternoon." Thirty minutes before your workout, eat some bland crackers. Motion-sickness bracelets such as Sea-Bands ($10), available at drugstores, also can help, as can ginger.

Obstacle Backache or hip pain

Solutions Stick to a low-impact workout featuring fluid movements, such as swimming, pool walking, or exercising on the elliptical machine or the recumbent bike. "These types of exercise increase blood flow, which loosens up your back and hip joints so you don't feel as achy," says prenatal exercise expert Amie Hoff, a fitness consultant for New York Sports Clubs in New York City. Swimming the breaststroke is a great option since it keeps your pelvis open and relaxed.

Light stretching may also do the trick by releasing tension in your hips, lower back and hamstrings. After a cardio warm-up, sit on the floor with your legs out straight or in a V and gently lean forward from your hips for 15 to 30 seconds, Hoff suggests. Also try sitting with your legs in a butterfly position (feet together, knees out). Weiss recommends pelvic tilts, which can be done while standing against a wall or seated on a ball or even in your car. (For instructions on performing pelvic tilts correctly, visit fitpregnancy.com/ontheball.)

Obstacle Frequent peeing

Solutions A gym workout means you'll be close to a bathroom, and if you're taking a class, tell your instructor you're pregnant so she'll understand your frequent departures. If you prefer walking in the fresh air, plan your route in a neighborhood that has a coffee house or restaurant on every block, or locate the bathroom at a local park and do laps in the vicinity. For trail hiking, bring along toilet tissue—and make sure you're still able to squat.

Late in pregnancy, as your baby moves deeper into your pelvis, you may leak urine when you work out. "Wear a pad so if you drip a little, you'll be protected," says Hoff.

Obstacle Swollen feet and ankles

Solutions Swelling is partly caused by the pressure of your uterus on the veins in your legs, which causes fluid buildup. Swimming offers relief because the water's buoyancy lifts the baby off your pelvis. "If you have a hard time kicking, place a buoyancy ball between your legs and use your upper body only," Hoff advises. "Just being horizontal should help with swelling."

Avoid the treadmill and elliptical trainer, but consider the recumbent bike, which places less pressure on your ankles. Buy athletic shoes one-half to one size bigger than normal so you have plenty of wiggle room, and remove the laces from the top holes. Make sure the rest of the shoe is snug and supportive.

Swelling typically subsides at night, so work out earlier in the day. Massage may also help, says New York City fitness trainer and prenatal-massage therapist Anne Taylor. "Have your partner use an exfoliation brush to massage your feet and calves in an upward motion, which will help recirculate extra fluid that can accumulate in the legs," Taylor says.

Obstacle Exhaustion

Solutions "Everyone has a time of day when they have the most energy, so schedule your workouts then," Hoff says. Dial down the intensity and break up your workout into 10-minute sessions, either stretching or resting in between. Weiss suggests choosing an activity that's enjoyable and social, like taking a walk with a friend. "Stroll around the block once and tell yourself you can stop. Chances are, you'll get to the front door and feel like doing another lap."

Obstacle Heartburn

Solutions Pay attention to when you get heartburn and how long it lasts, and schedule your workouts around it. This pattern may change as your growing baby begins to crowd your abdominal cavity, pushing stomach acids back up into your esophagus. To keep that burning sensation and sour taste in check, eat small meals, drink plenty of fluids, and steer clear of spicy, greasy and fatty foods. Also, avoid lying on your back as much as possible. Ask your doctor if you can take chewable antacids or other medications before you work out. Experts also recommend consuming papaya or papaya extract and drinking milk with honey stirred in, a remedy that Weiss says "can bring a forest blaze down to a mild campfire."

Obstacle Achy wrists

Solutions To combat sore wrists—caused when fluid retention compresses the nerves in your forearms—Mallett recommends doing wrist circles and using your opposite hand to guide each wrist through 15 seconds of gentle flexion and extension. Limit upper-body exercise, especially moves that require bending your wrists. Don't grasp the rails of the treadmill or elliptical machine, or if you must, place a towel underneath your palms for cushioning. (If wrists are numb, call your doctor.)

Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

It's fine to push through a little nausea; it's not fine to exercise when you're experiencing pain, dizziness or any of the symptoms listed below, which may indicate preterm labor or preeclampsia (a dangerous condition involving high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine). "Stop exercising and call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms, which may signal a serious problem," says Andrew Helfgott, M.D., professor and section chief for maternal-fetal medicine in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.

• Vaginal bleeding

• Leaking of fluid from the vagina

• Significant abdominal cramping or back pain

• Spots in your field of vision

• Severe headache

• A hard "stitch" on your right side, underneath your ribs

• Major swelling in your hands and feet

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