Exercise and The Workplace

An exercise plan for the busiest of women; plus how to plan your maternity leave, eat well and keep your sense of style}


All mothers are working mothers. Whether you spend all day in an office, telecommute from home, work on an assembly line or run after your 5-year-old, you’re probably busy all the time. But that’s no reason to neglect other aspects of your life while pregnant. To help you juggle it all, we’ve put together a special working woman’s guide to exercising and solving two workplace pregnancy dilemmas: strategizing for the best possible maternity leave and making sure your baby is safe from hazards at your job.

It was probably a challenge to find time for exercise even before you got pregnant. But now, more than ever, you stand to reap big benefits from staying active. Perhaps the most convincing reason to stay fit is to feel good. “I’m a firm believer that exercising gives you more energy,” says Katherine Rowell, 31, who ran a day-care center in Cambridge, Mass., while pregnant with her son Griffin. “I was tired during the first trimester, so I cut back from five workouts a week to three or four. After that, I had plenty of energy.”

Stress relief Exercise can also soothe your nerves. “Staying active cuts down on the stress of working while pregnant,” says Gretchen Tafe, a 35-year-old teacher from West Roxbury, Mass., who is mother to Hal, 2, and expecting her second child. “The little things don’t bother me so much.” Some moms are convinced this feel-good effect trickles down to baby, and they may be right. Infants whose mothers exercised regularly through pregnancy seem to be more neurodevelopmentally advanced, says a 1999 study from Case Western Reserve University at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. At 5 days old, these babies were significantly better at quieting themselves when exposed to stimuli than infants born to inactive mothers.

“I did yoga four times a week until Daphne was born, and I think the calmness rubbed off,” says Sandy Holbrook James, 31, of Sausalito, Calif. These moms know firsthand what researchers preach. “Exercise is a stress reducer,” says Jaci VanHeest, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of Connecticut who is researching exercise in pregnant women. “When you’re tired but there’s demand for you to increase your energy and handle stress, exercise can absolutely help.”

Physical benefits “Women who were active before getting pregnant and who maintain their cardio fitness and strength may have shorter, less stressful labors; recover more quickly from labor; and seem more capable of handling the demands of labor,” says VanHeest.

Women who maintain an active lifestyle during and after pregnancy are also more likely to feel good about themselves after baby’s arrival, according to a 1999 University of Michigan study. “Those who defined themselves as vigorous exercisers were consistently and significantly more satisfied with their lives, their partners, their roles as mothers and their outlooks on life,” says the study’s lead researcher, Carolyn M. Sampselle, Ph.D., R.N.C., professor of nursing in obstetrics-gynecology at the University of Michigan.

Listen to Your Body “Don’t push yourself to exhaustion,” warns Marcos Pupkin, M.D., chairman of the OB-GYN department and director of the Center for Women’s Health and Medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “As your pregnancy progresses and your blood has fewer oxygen-carrying red blood cells, it’s normal to feel more tired. So if all you can do is 15 minutes, that’s fine.” To make sure you don’t overdo it, review your exercise routine with your doctor. Also, avoid exercises in which you lie on your back, as well as those that could result in a fall. Keep these safety tips in mind as well:

Drink up Consume at least 8 ounces of water before exercising and 8 ounces for every 15 to 20 minutes of activity.

Fuel up Your body needs extra calories. Make sure you gain the recommended 25 to 35 pounds.

Don’t overheat Avoid steam rooms, saunas and hot tubs.

Know the warning signs Stop exercising and see your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms: pain, fever, bleeding, faintness, cramping, ringing in the ears, persistent headaches, absence of usual fetal movement, sudden swelling, difficulty in walking or tachycardia (abnormally rapid heartbeat) after exercising. On the days when the couch threatens to win you over, look to the future. “Making time for exercise takes a lot of planning,” says Rowell. “But ... I know that it makes me a better mom and wife.”


Fit Pregnancy fitness editor Linda Shelton teamed up with exercise pro Kathy Stevens to develop a workout filled with activities a woman can do throughout the day to stay fit, active and healthy. Start with our Good Morning wake-up exercises to realign your body and get you ready for your day; then strengthen your muscles either at the gym or at home with a dumbbell workout. We’ve included some easy stretches that soothe aches and pains for moms-to-be who work long hours at their desks or on their feet. At lunch time, take an energy break and go for a walk or swim. Finally, after work, de-stress with restorative yoga poses to help you relax and sleep well.

Good morning!

Try these exercises to realign your body and help you start the day off with better posture.

1. Spine aligner Stand with your back against a wall, touching it with your heels, shoulders and head; then press the back of your neck and lower back as close to the wall as possible. (You will have to tilt your pelvis back.) Hold for 3 slow breaths and then release.

2. Cat Lean with your hands on a counter top (or kneel with your hands and knees on floor), legs apart, back and arms straight. Take a few steps back from the counter and, keeping chest lifted and knees slightly bent, lean forward from hips [A]. Inhale; then exhale, rounding your back like a cat [B]. Hold position for a few seconds; then reverse the action. Inhale and try to expand chest by pulling shoulder blades back, keeping lower back neutral (with a small arch). Repeat 3 times.

Body strengthening for home or gym

These strengthening exercises will help you maintain muscle tone and improve the endurance needed to carry your growing baby. If you’ve been doing weighted resistance work, start with dumbbells of the weight you’re accustomed to. If not, start with no weight or use filled water bottles to master the form; then progress from 3 to 8 pounds over a course of several months.

1. Carryall Stand with feet hip-width apart, legs straight but not locked. Hold weights in front of you with elbows bent close to waist, palms facing in and forearms parallel. Squeeze shoulders back 8–12 times. Inhale as you squeeze and exhale as you release to a neutral posture. Improves upper-back strength, shoulders and biceps.

2. Benders Standing with feet hip-width apart, hold arms and weights in the same “carrying” position as Exercise #1. Bend knees slightly and lean forward from hips while maintaining a straight spine. Straighten knees and hips to bring your back to an upright posture. Repeat 8–12 times. Note: Only your knees and hips should move. If this bothers your lower back (especially in the last trimester), use a wider stance and rest your weights at the top of your thighs. Strengthens lower back, hips and legs.

3. Recline abs Sitting on the edge of a chair or bench, hold 1 weight on your chest with both hands; lean back slightly (1 or 2 inches) with a straight spine, contracting abdominals and keeping breastbone lifted. Hold for 3 breaths. Release by sitting up tall. Repeat 2 times. Strengthens abs and improves posture.

4. Stationsary lunges Stand with feet hip-width apart, left foot in front of right with right heel lifted. Hold weights in hands with arms crossed over chest. Bend both knees, keeping left knee in line with left ankle and back knee pointing toward floor. Straighten both legs to starting position. Do 8–12 reps, switch legs and repeat. Note: If you have problems balancing, hold a support with 1 hand and 1 dumbbell with the other. Strengthens leg muscles.

Workplace stress busters

These one-minute limbering and stretching exercises will help relieve muscle tension and increase circulation during the workday. Alternate them, or do both at the same time.

1. Ankle circles Sitting for long periods can restrict the circulation of blood to the lower extremities. Stand lightly touching the back of a chair for balance, lift 1 leg in front of you a few inches off the floor, and circle the foot for 15 seconds; then point and flex the foot for another 15 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.

2. Chest opener Another common stress during pregnancy is the forward rounding of the shoulders and upper back due to the increased weight of the breasts. For relief, sit up tall and plant your feet firmly on the floor. Place your hands on your belly or thighs, lengthen your neck and hold your chin slightly back [A]. Roll your shoulders back in a circular motion 5 times; then squeeze your shoulder blades back toward each other as you stretch your arms back behind you, clasping hands if you can [B]; hold for 3 deep breaths. Release to a neutral posture. Finish by closing your eyes and taking a deep breath, allowing your ribs and chest to expand while keeping your shoulder blades slightly back and down. Picture yourself seated straight and strong, as though you are balancing a plate on your head.

Relax ...

Finish your day with the following two great yoga moves, which will help you relax and restore a sense of balance to your body.

1. Side stretch Kneel on your right knee with left leg extended to the side, thigh muscles contracted, making sure the arch of the left foot is even with right knee. Right thigh is perpendicular to the floor, with top of right foot on floor and tailbone pointing down. Place left hand, palm up, on left thigh, arm straight. Raise your right hand, palm facing in. Inhale and slide left hand down thigh, exhale and lean gently toward left, stretching the right side of your torso. Look up at your hand if you can while keeping your balance; otherwise, look straight ahead. Take 2–3 breaths, inhale, and come up. Switch legs and repeat on other side.

2. Child's pose Kneel on floor on hands and knees and place a pillow or rolled towel behind knees on lower legs. Exhale, separate knees, and sit back onto heels so the backs of your thighs are against the pillow and buttocks are touching heels. Slide arms in front of you on the floor until your forehead is resting on the floor. Stay in this position for as long as you like, breathing slowly and rhythmically.