The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Cool–down If you’ve walked 20 minutes or more, slow down to warm-up pace for the first 5 minutes. Then do stretches for legs, hips flexors and back, holding each for 20–30 seconds without bouncing.
Active pregnant women even breathe easier. A recent study by Wolfe and Patricia Ohtake, Ph.D., of 27 previously nonfit pregnant women, showed that those who spent 20 weeks during their second and third trimesters doing up to 25 minutes of stationary cycling three times a week felt less out of breath (a common complaint in the later stages of pregnancy) than those who remained inactive.
The exercise you do during pregnancy also produces a healthy environment for your growing baby. “If you exercise enough to strengthen your heart, lungs, oxygen transport system and muscles, all those systems that protect the baby will also be stronger,” says Wolfe.
That said, pregnancy is no time to train for a world record, or even a personal one. No matter how fit you were prepregnancy, expect to do less now. As your pregnancy progresses, it’s crucial to heed your body’s signals. “The third trimester, especially, is not a time to do anything you’re not used to,” says Wolfe. “Don’t make any increases, and cut back if you feel tired.”
Nevertheless, even if you’re out of the exercise habit, you don’t have to be stuck on the sidelines while active women have all the fun and reap all the benefits. Just be cautious about the activities you choose.
One of the safest exercises is walking; it’s easy on the body because there’s no pounding, and it carries less chance of accident or injury than most other activities. That’s key, according to Wolfe, because as your weight increases and the hormone relaxin loosens your pelvic joints in preparation for delivery, you may be more susceptible to accidental (such as sprained ankles) or overuse injuries (such as tendonitis).
Not for wimps
Despite its gentle reputation, walking isn’t too wimpy for even the fittest women. “It’s something you can adjust to any level or intensity,” says Angela Settle, a Chicago-based trainer and fitness expert.
Walking is a great aerobic conditioner because it works the large muscles in your legs and buttocks. You can keep challenging yourself with it, too: A study conducted by Wolfe and others found that fit, healthy pregnant women are well-equipped to regulate the lactic acid produced during even strenuous exercise. That means you gonzo walkers can continue to charge up hills (at least until the third trimester), as long as you can keep your balance.
No matter what shape you’re in, it’s nice to have a simple exercise plan. Walking is about as straightforward as you can get — all it takes is a pair of supportive, comfortable shoes and a place to put down your two feet. That simplicity is something you’ll welcome after baby comes, too, when you’re ready to ease back into exercise on your own, or with your new cargo in a carriage or carrier.