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Three vital reasons you should exercise in pregnancy


Photo: Fit pregnancy

In Nigeria, very few things have been misunderstood like a pregnant woman working out.

If you are obese or overweight, is seen as a waste of time; if underweight, you are asked if you want to kill yourself, disappear, or hurt your baby; and if in the ideal weight range, you are perceived as being vain and may have a few choice words thrown your way, as was my case as an exercising pregnant woman.

But every woman who can work out in pregnancy, should work out irrespective of her weight.


The major reason working out is not exactly encouraged by most of us is that we don’t quite understand the ‘why’. Most people still erroneously think that exercising is solely about weight loss.

Even for non-pregnant exercisers, benefits go beyond weight loss.

In pregnancy however, the goal of working out is not to lose weight; it is to stay optimally fit to accommodate the many changes the body goes through, minimize the various pregnancy-induced complications/discomforts that may arise, as well as prepare the body for the athletic event that labour and delivery present, irrespective of the birth route – whether vaginal or abdominal (via a C-Section).

Post-delivery, exercising helps the body bounce back faster.

In this article, focus will be on three of the many benefits of exercising in pregnancy, juxtaposing it with various body sizes.

Stress relief and energy boosting
Living in Nigeria can be highly stressful, especially for a pregnant woman who works outside the home, and maybe has to commute to work.

A solid 30 to 45-minute workout three to five times a week will not just give an immediate energy boost and improve mood, but will also overall provide the body with more available energy, and reduce stress.

These will also help pregnancy-induced insomnia so you sleep better.

Whether obese or underweight, every pregnant woman can benefit from these.


Muscle strengthening

Every pregnant woman, irrespective of her weight and BMI status can definitely do with stronger bones and muscles especially around the pelvic region, both to help carry the extra weight a baby brings with less pain, and for that hard work involved in labour and delivery.

While mums who undergo vaginal delivery will especially benefit from strong muscles when it comes to ‘push time’ (phew), even those who end up with (or opt for) a C-Section will recover faster with strong, active muscles.

Plus, with a new-born comes a lot of lifting, bending and moving so strong muscles are not unwelcome.

Workouts that strengthen muscles more often than not involve weights, but even if you are scared of, or not used to free weights like dumb bells, kettle bells or barbells, you can use your increasing body size as weight to get those muscles pumping with the many variations of squats and lunges, quadruped hip extensions and more, all illustrated in a simple Google search.

With most of these strengthening exercises, even for non-pregnant people, it is ‘Form over Speed’, so, focus on getting the form right, not how many reps you can do in a minute.

And even those underweight are not exempt. Being ‘slim’ is not an indicator of strong muscles, just as being big hardly means strong, big muscles.

So long as you have nothing stopping you from working out, then you absolutely should work out.


Working out helps control weight gain

On a general note, there is a consciousness working out gives you that somehow makes you more disciplined with your diet. Exercising and clean eating usually go hand in hand.

Notice I said ‘control’ weight gain, and not ‘stop’ it.

I must however state that for some women, starting to exercise (which burns calories) and maintaining a healthy prenatal diet will result in weight loss, but weight loss should never be the goal, except of course your doctor advises weight loss for health reasons in pregnancy.

Naturally, anyone who previously lacked food discipline, and suddenly begins to clean up her diet and then exercise will lose any excess weight, especially those who were overweight and obese before conception.

So, while you may be gaining weight from all the changes pregnancy is bringing, you may also be losing weight as a result of a more disciplined lifestyle, which may create a calorie deficit manifesting as weight loss, but weight loss should never be the goal, so that you don’t tip to the extremes axnd put yourself and baby at risk.

For those underweight, working out will help bulk up and strengthen those lean muscles, even as weight gain happens gradually.

You may wonder how the same action (exercising) affects both classes of women differently, but I have learned that the human body is very smart and would customize every workout experience to optimize specific body types, putting body fat and muscle percentage into perspective.

As always, be sure that only prenatal workouts are done in pregnancy, and permission must always be sought from your doctor prior.

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