When it comes to pregnancy, there are many beliefs about what's best for the mother-to-be. Some people advise that they should eat for two. Then there's the notion that pregnancy is the time to be extra careful and drop all active pursuits. Others caution that pregnancy is not the time to start exercising especially when the mum-to-be has led a sedentary life thus far.
It may feel counter-intuitive but exercise has special added paybacks for pregnant women. Not only does it maintain emotional and physical health, it makes the pregnancy an easier one. Here are five great reasons to keep active while pregnant.
For a start, exercise stretches and strengthens the muscles, which help the body cope better with the conditions common during pregnancy such as backache, water retention and varicose veins. The risk of developing certain complications such as gestational diabetes is also reduced.
Most pregnant women have some trouble getting a good night's rest. Regular exercise helps to work off excess energy and provide a more restful sleep.
It's common for expectant mums to feel a little blue or anxious when the hormones act up, but exercise can improve the mood by boosting 'feel good brain chemicals' such as endorphins and neurotransmitters.
The baby in the womb also benefits from the exercise. Richard E. Nisbett, a prominent cognitive psychologist who teaches at the University of Michigan said in his book "Intelligence and How to Get It" that pregnant women who exercise 30 minutes a day can increase their baby's IQ by 8 points.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it is recommended that healthy pregnant women get at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week. If this sounds daunting, don't worry. Almost any type of exercise - walking, vacuuming the house, and playing with the dog - counts.
There are, of course, some precautions to take note of. It is advisable to consult a doctor first to make sure it is safe for you to exercise during your pregnancy and high-intensity exercises should be avoided.
Here are some exercises that you can take up:
Walking: It is an effective entry-level exercise that can be done throughout the pregnancy. Walking keeps you fit without stressing the knees and ankles. It can be done anywhere and anytime, improves cardiovascular health, and is, best of all, free.
Breathing exercises: Deep breathing helps to oxygenate internal organs and provide both the mother and baby with energy. It doubles up as a relaxation technique to cope with the stresses of pregnancy and labour. One breathing exercise is cleansing breathing. Sit in a comfortable position, with your back straight. Breathe in through your nose for five counts, filling your abdomen with as much air as possible. Hold the breath for a few seconds, and then slowly release it through your month. Repeat this exercise until you feel calmer and less stressed.
Aerobic exercises such as swimming and water workouts: Aerobic exercise stimulates the heart, lungs and muscles, helping your body to process oxygen and improves blood circulation. It also increases your body strength, which will relieve backache and help you cope better with a lengthy labour.
More importantly, aerobic exercise heightens your ability to cope with the physical and emotional challenges of childbearing. If you are still not convinced on the benefits of exercise, this may be the deal clincher: being active helps you regain your pre-pregnancy body in a shorter time because it reduces the likelihood of gaining excess weight during the pregnancy.
And before you head out of the door for some exercise, do remember to invest in a pair of good shoes that will provide good support for your workouts.