Is it safe to do cardio exercise during pregnancy?

Cardio exercise during pregnancy is A-OK… but what do you need to be careful of?

Generally speaking, if you are medically well and you have clearance from your doctor then it is safe to participate in a regular cardio exercise routine.

Cardio exercise can improve glycaemic (sugar) control thereby reducing your risk of gestational diabetes (woo!) and it can reduce excessive maternal weight gain… not to mention all the happy hormones that you get from huffing and puffing a little bit.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology recommend 30 minutes of exercise, 4-5 times per week during pregnancy.

So yes cardio is good.. but what do we need to watch out for to ensure that it is safe, effective and causing no harm?

Number one.

Monitor your intensity and exertion.

You are allowed to huff and puff.. but remember this…

You should be able to talk but not sing.

This is a great guide to knowing how hard your body can work. A great excuse to keep chatting away to your friends whilst exercising!

The Borg’s Modified Scale is a tool used by physiotherapists to help pregnant women monitor their intensity during classes. We ask women to aim to exercise between 12-14 on this scale.

modified borg intensity scale

Aim for 12-14 on this scale “somewhat hard”

Number two.

Monitor your body temperature.

If you are sweating bullets, this indicates that your core temperature is elevated and this can have effects on your growing baby.

A little bit of perspiration is OK… red faced and drowning in sweat- not so much.

Stay hydrated by always having a bottle of water within reach.

If exercising indoors, pop the fan on.

If exercising outdoors, choose a time of the day when the temperature isn’t sweltering.

Wear light and breathable clothing.

Number three.

This applies for any type of exercise.. stop if you notice any of the following signs.

  • Chest pain
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Incontinence
  • Pelvic or back pain
  • Heaviness/dragging in the vaginal area
  • Change in your baby’s movements

So now we know how to monitor our bodies… what sort of cardio exercise can we do?

The following are great forms of exercise which are pregnancy, tummy and pelvic floor friendly and allow you to get some huff and puff.

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  • Swimming
  • Cycling (stationary)
  • Walking
  • Pregnancy specific exercise classes

Exercises to avoid…

  • Contact sports
  • Activities which involve a risk of trauma ie. horseriding, cycling (non-stationary)
  • High impact activities
  • Frequent changes in direction ie. netball

Now I know some of you want to know about running…

In short.. running is good and running is not good. Hope that’s cleared that up!

No seriously.. if you were running prior to falling pregnant then it is OK to continue during pregnancy provided you don’t experience back or pelvic pain, or symptoms of pelvic floor weakness ie. incontinence or vaginal heaviness (prolapse).

However I suggest to my clients to stop running at the end of the first trimester.

To be honest, most women stop earlier because they just don’t feel comfortable anymore. Now I understand that not everybody is happy to do this, but here is my reasoning…

Pelvic Floor!

Whether you feel symptoms of weakness or not, your pelvic floor is changing.

The effects of pregnancy hormones, causing laxity in the body, places the pelvic floor in a weakened state.

The growing weight of a baby places even more pressure on the pelvic organs and pelvic floor.

If you add running in to the mix, the pelvic organs and pelvic floor are under an immense amount of pressure.

This can increase your risk of incontinence and prolapse.

The benefits of running during pregnancy don’t appear to outweigh the risks.

There are so many other wonderful ways to stay strong and fit without compromising your health.

Ask yourself…what is it about running that I love?

Is it getting outdoors? Try walking your dog!

Is it getting a bit sweaty and huffy and puffy? Try stationary cycling or an exercise class!

Is it having some time to yourself? Read a book, go for a walk on your own or meditate!

And 9 months is so short in the grand scheme of things.

Always be guided by your body. You know yourself best.

If something doesn’t feel right then it usually isn’t.

xo Physio Laura

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