The benefits of exercising during pregnancy can include:
Reduced Incidence of Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes (GD) is the most common medical issue associated with childbirth, affecting up to 10% of pregnancies (1). Women with GD are prone to developing diabetes postpartum and their babies are at an increased risk of obesity, impaired glucose tolerance, and type II diabetes (1). However, remaining physically active in pregnancy reduces the odds of developing GD by up to 59% (2)
Decreased Incidence of Pre-Eclampsia
Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy-related disorder that encompasses maternal high blood pressure, proteinuria, and edema (swelling). Women who were engaged in regular exercise during pregnancy had a reduced incidence of preeclampsia and gestational hypertension, with the risk decreasing as the volume of exercise increased (3). Another study reported that light prenatal exercise reduced the incidence of preeclampsia by up to 24%, whereas the performance of vigorous exercise led to a reduction of up to 54% (4).
Improved Body Image
Body image is something that a lot of women have a difficult time dealing with in pregnancy, although it has been found that women who exercised during pregnancy had a significantly better body image than non-exercisers (5). Pregnant women who maintained physical activity levels gained up to 20% less weight while pregnant compared to those who remained inactive and whilst many women report feeling unattractive and even fat, remaining active has been shown to result in women responding more favourably to pregnancy-related changes in their bodies compared with women who remain sedentary (6). Studies show a relationship between maternal physical activity and the incidence and severity of depression; this can be linked back to body changes and poor body perception.
Reduced Lower Back Pain
76% of women have reported to experience lower back pain during pregnancy (7). It has also been shown that pregnant women who participated in an exercise program specifically designed to strengthen the core muscles reported a significant reduction in the intensity of lower back pain and related discomfort throughout the pregnancy (8). There have been ample studies to show that exercise can counteract lumbar stress and help with symptoms of lower back pain (9).
Exercise has been shown to have positive effects on many aspects of labour, with high levels of resistance training showing a particularly beneficial effect, including decreased risk of premature labour, shorter hospitalisation, and a reduction in caesarean section delivery in women that completed resistance training throughout their pregnancy (10).
Limitations During Pregnancy
Although exercising during pregnancy is generally very safe and recommended, it is important to establish some ground rules.
Pain and Discomfort
Pain and discomfort during or from exercise can stem from a variety of factors, such as poor exercise selection and exercise technique, but things like these can be rectified with sensible program adjustments and proper instruction. However, there are times where you may need to stop exercise immediately and seek medical care, such as if you experience:
Your doctor may advise against exercise in some circumstances, such as if you are classed as a high-risk pregnancy. There are also some types of exercise that should not be completed during pregnancy, such as:
Don’t Wait Until You’re Pregnant to Start!
Not only is it beneficial to exercise as early in pregnancy as possible, it’s also highly advantageous and suggested to have exercise during the preconception stage. Increasing lean body mass and impriving your upper and lower back strength can help prepare your body for the changes in posture and weight balance to come as the pregnancy progresses. The stronger and fitter you are going into pregnancy, the better.
There are an array of benefits to exercising during pregnancy including improved strength, fitness, health, body image, reduced lower back pain, and easier labour, not to mention the knock-on effect it has been shown to have in the post-partum phase. Exercising during pregnancy is generally very safe and all women should aim to maintain an exercise regime as part of their lifestyle, unless of course medical conditions or symptoms inhibit otherwise.
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With over 10 years experience in the fitness industry and a burning passion for all things health and fitness, Amanda has a BSc in Exercise Science, a BSc in Health Sciences, and a MSc in Biomechanical Analysis. She is also an international IFBB Bikini competitor and a mother to Mya.
From commercial pilot to fitness coach, Daniel changed careers to pursue his passion for health & fitness. He holds a BSc and is a Certified Strength & Conditioner, Certified Fitness Trainer, certified nutritionist, an international men's physique competitor, and a father with a love for helping others become more educated to reach their goals.
Michelle creates out of this world recipes of everyday foods we love that are more diet-friendly. She is the woman behind the mouth-watering Instagram page, @peachypalate.