Exercise during pregnancy is safe and very beneficial for both mom and baby. It is generally recommended to get 20-30 minutes of physical activity most day of the week. Any activities that were frequently done prior to pregnancy are safe to continue.
Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
We generally think of exercise as a way to lose fat and build strength. During pregnancy, however, fat loss is unlikely, as your body increases stores to support growth of the baby and milk production. Despite this, staying physically active (or starting to be, if you weren’t previously) has many benefits, such as :
- Improved heart health
- Increased respiratory fitness
- Reduced risk of excessive weight gain
- Reduced risk of gestational diabetes
- Reduced risk of pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia
- Reduced length of labor
- Reduced risk of having a Cesarean section
All this just from exercise – independent of healthy nutrition. Of course, that’s not to say that a healthy diet doesn’t matter, it absolutely does. This simply goes to highlight the tremendous benefits linked directly to movement.
How much should I exercise during pregnancy?
The following are guidelines from two official US organizations for exercise during uncomplicated pregnancies*:
- Department of Health and Human Services: 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity activity, which works out to 25 minutes per day on 6 days of the week 
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG): 20-30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity activity most, if not all, days of the week 
Both organizations agree that women who frequently did high-intensity aerobic exercise or other physically demanding activities can continue to do them during pregnancy.
These guidelines fall in line with recommendations from other countries such as the UK, Canada, Norway, and Denmark . But surprisingly, the guidelines from US organizations have decreased in the last decade, despite the fact that our population is getting more overweight and less physically active. Nearly 80% of adults in America do not meet the minimum guidelines for aerobic and strength training exercises . In an effort to make the recommendations approachable, the bar was actually lowered.
In general, we know that some physical activity is better than none. But the longer you exercise, the more you gain in cognitive function, physical health, and disease prevention.
What counts as exercise?
All structured, repetitive movement beyond the normal needs of getting around counts as exercise. Exercise doesn’t need to be in a gym or group fitness class, but it does need to be engaged in for some extended amount of time.
We generally talk about 2 forms of exercise: aerobic, where your heart rate is elevated for 10 minutes or more, and anaerobic, which refers to short bursts of intense activity with recovery periods in between.
Activities such as walking, gardening, biking, swimming, and running are aerobic forms of exercise. Weight lifting, resistance training, running sprints, and other high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are anaerobic.
While both forms of exercise have unique advantages, the guidelines for pregnant women generally refer to aerobic types of activities.
Which exercises should I avoid during pregnancy?
The simplest guideline for safe exercise is to listen to your body and don’t overexert yourself. Use a sensible approach to stay active while protecting yourself and your baby.
Several decades ago the official recommendation from ACOG was to keep your heart rate below 140 beats per minute. This limit was found to be unnecessary but it’s still commonly cited by professionals in the US and is included in other countries’ guidelines.
Instead of heart rate tracking, a reliable way to monitor exertion is the “talk test” . So long as you are able to talk during exercise, you are in a comfortable and safe zone of exertion.
Again, your body’s response will be your best guide, but here is a list of activities to avoid altogether :
- Contact sports
- Sports with high risks of falls
- Scuba diving
- Hot yoga/pilates
Majority of the guidelines also indicate that you should avoid laying on your back for any exercises after the first trimester or after 16 weeks’ gestation . The reason is that the supine position could decrease blood flow to your heart and cause low blood pressure.
Regardless of what activity you are doing, stop if you experience any of the following:
- Vaginal bleeding or leakage of other fluid
- Difficulty catching your breath
- Dizziness or feeling off balance
- Abdominal pain
- Chest pain
Frequent bathroom breaks, decreased tolerance of hot weather, and reduced performance are generally normal, especially as the pregnancy progresses.
- Exercising during pregnancy is safe and beneficial for health outcomes
- A minimum of 20-30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per day, most days of the week, is recommended
- You can continue doing the exercises and activities there you were doing before pregnancy
*If you have disabilities or other health concerns, refer to your healthcare provider’s recommendations.