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Pregnancy and Exercise

Pregnancy and Exercise - Starting a Program

Most women know that exercise is normally beneficial. But once pregnant, many women wonder about the safety of exercise to her and her baby. This is a particularly important issue for women that haven ever regularly exercised before becoming pregnant. This article is meant to be only a guideline and to encourage pregnant women to pursue an exercise program while pregnant. Of course, pregnant or not, everyone should consult their physician before starting an exercise program.

Benefits of Exercise to the Fetus
The jury is still out on the direct benefits to the baby. The best guide is that exercise is beneficial to the mother and, therefore, likely to be beneficial to the fetus for having a healthy mother.There are, however, a few studies that have shown some direct benefits to the fetus:

  • Higher Apgar Scores - Some studies indicate that babies are stronger immediately following birth when the mother has regularly exercised.
  • Bigger Healthier Babies - One study found that exercisers delivered babies who weighed around 5% more (and sometimes higher), than babies born to sedentary mothers.

    Benefits of Exercise to the Mother
    The benefits of exercise to healthy, pregnant women have been greatly documented. These include:

  • Better managing the extra weight of pregnant with increased aerobic conditioning and stamina.
  • Tolerating labor better both emotionally and physically.
  • Increased muscular strength and endurance (for those who participate in a moderate strength training program)
  • Decreased chances of unhealthy weight gain
  • Quicker recovery from childbirth and quicker return to prepregnancy weight
  • Reduced incidence of hemmoroids, varicose veins, backache, and fatigue

    Risks of Exercise to the Fetus

  • Joint and connective tissue injury.
  • During pregnancy, the hormones loosen the ligaments and joints to allow easier delivery. Also, the extra weight or the breasts and uterus throw off center of gravity and balance.Therefore, women are discouraged from participating in any activities that are particularly jarring or have risk of falling. Some that should be avoided are in-line skating, bike riding, skiing, horseback riding.
  • Scuba diving for reasons particular to that sport should also be completely avoided while pregnant.

    Special Considerations
    Even with all the benefits, there are occasionally times when exercise is not recommended. Following are three lists to guide you through making the decision that exercise may not be right for you.

    Women with the following conditions should consult a physician before exercising:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Anemia or other blood disorders
  • Food disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Palpitations or irregular heart rhythm
  • Breech presentation in the last trimester
  • Excessive obesity
  • Extremely underweight
  • Other medical complications or disease
  • History of precipitous labor, (less than 3 hours), intrauterine growth retardation, bleeding during present pregnancy or an extremely sedentary lifestyle.

    Women with the following conditions should NOT participate in exercise while pregnant:

  • Heart disease
  • Ruptured membranes
  • Premature labor
  • Faintness or dizziness
  • Bleeding or a dignosis placenta previa
  • Rapid heart rate or palpitations
  • Difficulty walking

    Guidelines for Exercising while Pregnant
    Here you are. You've decided to exercise, your doctor agrees, and you want to be sure you do it right. Follow these rules and you will be strafing a very healthy life for you and your baby.

  • Women who have been previously primarily sedentary should begin at a very low intensity and advance gradually.
  • Exercising at least three times per week (spaced out over the week) is better than intermittent activity.
  • Ballistic (jerky, bouncy) movements and deep flexion or extension of joints should all be avoided.
  • Wear supportive bras and shoes to compensate for the extra weight.
  • Drink water throughout exercise. Vigorous exercise should also not be performed in hot or humid weather or while you have a fever.
  • Vigorous exercise should always be preceded by a ten minute warm up of cardiovascular exercise (like walking).
  • Maternal heart rate should never exceed 140 beats per minute. The heart rate should be measured at the peak of activity.
  • Strenuous exercise should last no longer than 15 minutes.
  • Exercise should be followed by a 5 to 10 minute cool down. Care should be taken to gradually rise from the floor to avoid blood pooling in the limbs.
  • Exercise should not be performed lying on the back after the fourth month of pregnancy is completed.
  • Exercises employing the Valsava maneuver (holding breath) should be avoided.
  • Be sure to eat enough to meet the extra needs of pregnancy and the extra needs of exercise.

    Congratulations!
    If you have started to exercise, or decide to start, discuss this with your doctor, and you will be well on your way to a much healthier life-style.

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