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The Unwritten Rules of Exercise and Pregnancy

In general, the rule of thumb is to use common sense when it comes to following an exercise regimen during pregnancy. First, make sure that you are in good physical health and that your doctor does not prohibit or limit your exercise for any reason (always check with a doctor first). Second, don't take up a new strenuous physical activity now that you're pregnant – for example, something that you've never done in the past. This is not the time to start new physical activities. Third, don't do anything that you have doubts about or lack the confidence in your ability to complete in a safe manner. Always, always consider safety first. Stay away from exercises that present risks to the abdomen.

The No-Exercise Exercise
Kegel exercises were named after Dr. Kegel who originally described the muscle group that aids in controlling urine outflow (also known as the pubococcygeous muscle or pc muscle – not politically correct, however). The exercises are simple to do. Next time you're urinating, use the muscles to practice stopping your urine midstream. By strengthening these muscles, you may have better control over your urine outflow. So what's the big deal? Why do it? Because some scientists feel that pregnancy weakens these muscles so that later on a woman has urinary incontinence. Scientists and doctors debate whether it is pregnancy itself that affects the PC or the labor and delivery of a vaginal birth that contributes to weakening these muscles. In truth, it's probably a little of both. Although it's unclear how much this exercise helps during pregnancy, it's clear that it doesn't hurt. You can practice tightening the muscle group and holding it 10 20 seconds, as often as you like, and the beauty of it is that no one knows you're doing it (you won't even break a sweat).

What's Good for You
Walk, walk, walk, and then walk some more. Walking is one of the best exercises for increasing blood flow and burning calories. Running and jogging are OK if you are used to them. Riding bikes is a safe exercise, presuming you're stable on the bike and don't fall off. Swimming is a great cardio-vascular exercise that supports the stomach, as well as the joints. No diving, please. It's preferable to swim in a clean, well-kept, chlorinated pool, rather than a lake or an ocean where infection might be a concern. Low impact aerobics are excellent, as is yoga for pregnancy or regular yoga. Make sure the instructor or any trainer of an exercise regimen knows that you are pregnant, so the exercises can be tailored to your condition.

For the Working Mom
It's definitely more difficult for the working mother to work in (pun intended) exercise; however, it is not impossible. First, take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible. Second, walk on your breaks – a short walk is better than no walk at all. Also, try walking or working out on your lunch hour. Sometimes, workplaces will have a gym where you can get some treadmill or bike time in. If not, take 20 minutes at home after work to devote to some cardiovascular exercise (walk around the block). Also, do stretches at work, including your Kegel exercises. No one will be the wiser, except you. Prop your feet up occasionally and take time to get up and move around, not staying in one position for too long.

Don't forget that weekends count. If you can get in three days a week of 20 minutes of exercise (get that heart rate up!), that's better than none at all. Of course, more is always better.

What Isn't Good
Stay away from anything that could do harm to your abdomen, cause you to fall, or hurt you in any way. While many women do ride horses during pregnancy, it is considered risky, due to the possibility of a fall. Absolutely no cross-country riding or jumping should be allowed in the latter stages of pregnancy, and it could be damaging in the earlier stages as well. Most physicians would have no problem with an easy loping pace on a horse, but strenuous galloping should be avoided. Riding a motorcycle cross-country would not be the best sport while pregnant. This is not the time to run a marathon or participate in any regular strenuous exercises. Team sports are permissible, depending on the risk of injury. Basketball could be dangerous if you are knocked over or elbowed in the abdomen. Tennis should be fine, as long as you don't let the ball hit you in the stomach.

Potential Risks to the Abdomen
Be careful in a weight room. It's OK to continue lifting free weights or a lifting bar, but you might want to decrease the weight. You absolutely don't want to drop the bar or weights on your stomach, so it might be better to discontinue this type of exercise altogether. Be aware that your center of gravity will change the farther along you get into the pregnancy. Even Nautilus machines have the potential to injure you if you pull incorrectly or a weight drops unexpectedly.

Caution
Jacuzzis and hot tubs are more risky in the first trimester because of the high temperatures involved. Any extreme temperature variation (too hot or too cold) may have adverse effects on the fetus or may cause fetal anomalies. Unfortunately, doctors don't understand the mechanism by which the anomalies occur, since there are very few studies designed to look at this concern, for obvious reasons. The concern in earlier studies was that extreme temperatures could lead to limb defects, for example, an arm or a leg not growing properly.

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excerpted from:

Reproduced from Absolute Beginner's Guide to Pregnancy, by John Adams and Marta Justak, by permission of Pearson Education. Copyright © 2005 by Que Publishing. Please visit Amazon to order your own copy.


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