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What’s the best exercise to do during pregnancy?
Walking is the perfect exercise for almost anyone at any time—especially pregnant women: It provides a cardiovascular workout without jarring or stressing your joints, ligaments, growing belly and breasts. In fact, it’s so gentle that even sedentary women can start walking while pregnant. “Walking is fantastic for so many reasons, including the fact that most of us can walk with ease no matter how big we get,” says Danielle Symons Downs, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the exercise psychology laboratory at Pennsylvania State University.
Consistency is crucial to derive the benefits, which include increased energy, stress release and weight control. Mark Fenton, co-author of Walking Through Pregnancy and Beyond (Lyons Press, 2004), recommends walking 6 days a week, or as many days as you feel comfortable with, for at least 30 minutes. Use the “talk test” to assess your exertion level. The only equipment you’ll need is a pair of well-cushioned shoes (go to www.fitpregnancy.com/walkshoes for buying tips).
Why is prenatal yoga recommended?
“Yoga works on many levels—physical, energetic and spiritual—to bring about a profound transformation that is unmistakable and potent,” says Patty Slote, a yoga instructor at The Movement Center in Portland, Ore., who specializes in prenatal yoga. The poses focus on pregnancy-related concerns: toning the pelvic-floor muscles, opening the hips and pelvis, increasing breathing capacity, improving postural alignment and encouraging relaxation.
Prenatal yoga includes squats, pelvic-floor exercises, breathing exercises and a number of standing, seated and side-lying poses that will bring about those changes, explains Slote, who created the DVD series Prenatal Yoga: A Complete Home Practice (www.prenatalyogadvd.com). Slote’s website also features a printable “practice sheet” of poses.
How intensely can I exercise during these 9 months?
If you’re not having any complications, you can and should exercise every day for about 30 minutes, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. You can exercise at a similar intensity to your prepregnancy level as long as you stay well-hydrated and avoid overheating. A good rule of thumb is to not increase intensity or duration beyond what you are used to doing so you don’t overexert yourself. Stop immediately if you feel lightheaded or have contractions or bleeding. Using the “talk test” is an easy way to monitor your intensity while exercising. Here’s how it works: During the warm-up phase of your workout, you should be able to carry on a conversation with little or no effort. During the most challenging phase, conversing should require quite a bit of effort. While in the cool-down phase of your workout, you should again be able to carry on a conversation with minimal effort.