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Beginner tips for prenatal exercising

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Labour and delivery are athletic events, you must prepare for them. This is why, at most antenatal classes, women are told to workout and eat healthy. But how does a pregnant woman who has never worked out start to work out in a way that is both safe and effective for her?

First, let us establish a few of the many benefits that working out in pregnancy confers.It helps you control weight gain, prepares your muscles and bones for the hard work of labour and delivery, controls swelling and edema, powers you with strength to carry that bump as it gets bigger, improves your mood and general quality of life through pregnancy, reduces birth complications, and also helps you bounce back quicker and better post-delivery, whether for a Cesarean or vaginal birth.

However, if you have never worked out, the good news is that you can start immediately, so long as you have checked with your doctor and you have an ‘OK’.As expected, there are certain precautions that you must take when embarking on this prenatal fitness journey. Here are a few…

No big dreams
Sometimes, a woman may be trying to work her way down to her ideal weight and suddenly finds herself pregnant. Safety of mother and baby must immediately override any weight loss goals until post-delivery. The new goal becomes a healthy weight gain through the nine months of pregnancy. While high intensity workouts are a recommendation for weight loss, prenatal workouts are usually low to mid-intensity, and are more focused on building body strength as opposed to burning calories. No doubt, the calorie burn will happen, but it is not the goal.

Stick to prenatal exercises only
Not every workout is safe for pregnant women, even the low intensity ones. For example, cycling. A beginner who is not pregnant can cycle slowly down her street, but a pregnant woman should not cycle, no matter how slowly. This is because balance is easy to lose, and especially with the centre of gravity shifting in a pregnant woman as her abdomen protrudes, it gets even harder to find a balance.

Low intensity workout videos are also not recommended because there may be some routines not safe in pregnancy, such as any workout that has you lying flat on your back, or that brings your feet into high impact with the ground (like skipping or jumping jacks). Such moves can be dangerous for the baby, mother or both. Remember, safety over anything else.A prenatal workout video has considered all the precautions a pregnant woman must take while working out, including safety, balance, intensity, duration, and even form.

Keep it real low intensity
Even where prenatal workout videos are used, you must consider your own Rate of Perceived Exhaustion (RPE) and work to always stay below it especially as a beginner. The good thing is only you can determine your RPE. Even though these workouts are safe for pregnant women, we are all at different levels in our fitness journey, so rest before you feel exhausted (an indication of your RPE).

The danger in what your body may interpret as ‘high intensity’ is that at a certain level, the demand for blood and oxygen by the exercising muscles gets higher thus diverting the supply away from the fetus to those muscles. However, at the body’s maximum intensity, there is a 12% decrease in uterine blood flow (amount of blood flowing to the uterus via the placenta), but the fetus is not affected until there is a 50% decrease, which most likely will not occur at the intensity of a beginner. However, it is always safe to err on the side of caution. If you can no longer maintain a coherent conversation, you are going too fast. Slow down. Stop.

Stay hydrated and aerated
While a pregnant woman should not ‘eat for two’, she should definitely ‘drink for two’. And by drink, I mean water, especially when exercising. Water replaces the body fluids being lost and also provides more energy to power the pregnant body through the workout. Plus, the internal body temperature is ordinarily higher for a pregnant woman, and exercising increases it even more, so drinking water keeps things cool within. Also dress light and workout in a location that is aerated, or at least have the fan or AC cooling you down to keep things cool from without.

So, how many times is a newbie expected to work out in a week to enjoy all these benefits? 40 mins of regular physical activity carried out 5 times a week is the recommendation if a previous non-exerciser is going to enjoy the same benefits as one who has always worked out before pregnancy. However, it is OK to begin with 15 minutes of workouts, 3 times a week and continue to increase from there. Every little counts and must be encouraged where possible.So, don’t be afraid to workout. Get the right information, start where you are and stay safe and consistent. The rewards will be apparent through pregnancy, labour, delivery and beyond.


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