The benefits of exercising during pregnancy
The benefits to both you and your baby of exercising during pregnancy are well documented. Exercising regularly gives you more energy and strength to cope with your pregnancy, and can also help you cope better with labour.
Studies have shown that women who exercised for a minimum of 15 minutes of aerobic activity 3 or more times per week, before and during pregnancy, have a greater release of beta-endorphins during their labours – which means reduced pain perception.
You will also have more energy after the birth to bond with your new baby and your body will bounce back into your pre-pregnancy jeans much quicker.
While many forms of exercise are beneficial while pregnant, exercising in water will also offer welcome relief from the strain of carrying added baby weight.
For just a short time in the water you are basically weightless. 50% to 80% of bone and joint stress is absorbed when exercising in waist to chest deep water.
Safe and comfortable environment
It is a safer and more comfortable environment, even on your back, since your foetus will not be depressed as much on the vena cava (veins leading back into the heart), as on land.
Good cardio workout
You can float and twist without difficulty and you feel like you are flying. The best part is that you can get a valuable cardio workout without really even feeling it. And you don’t need any special equipment except a maternity swimming costume as it will be more comfortable as your belly expands and will support your enlarged breasts.
Reasons to consider a water workout
But if the thought of slipping into a costume, in public, with your new expanding body still fills you with dread, here are some other great reasons to help you re-consider a water workout.
- Swimming first thing in the morning may help to counteract nausea and energise you for the rest of the day, especially in the first trimester.
- The weight of the uterus is supported, so you will experience less abdominal heaviness when exercising in water, especially beneficial in the last few months of your pregnancy.
- Unlike some high-impact, land-based exercises, no detrimental effects are known. You can exercise right up to your due date, provided your medical check-ups permit you to.
- The pressure of the water helps to improve venous blood flow, and this can help to reduce swelling in the lower limbs.
- Exercising in water can be relaxing and also helps to relieve pain (which is also why waterbirths are becoming increasingly popular).
- You may experience less muscle soreness and stiffness than after exercising on land.
- During pregnancy, you are more vulnerable to joint and ligament injury because your body produces relaxin, a hormone that loosens joints and ligaments in preparation for childbirth. This means that with some land-based exercises there is an increased risk of injury, but not so in water, your body is fully supported.
- The water’s temperature also keeps you from overheating during a workout.
You don’t need to know how to swim to benefit from water exercise. You can easily tailor your workout to use only moves that are performed in waist or chest-high water such as simple walking, jogging, aqua aerobics or running in water.
All of these moves will strengthen your core trunk muscles, legs and hips, increase your cardiorespiratory fitness without ever getting your hair wet.
Types of water workouts
Water workouts can be divided into three categories:
- Aqua aerobics
- Aqua exercise
Aqua aerobics is based on the fat-burning and endurance-building qualities of land-based aerobics, with no high-impact pounding that can be dangerous while pregnant.
Aqua exercise improves muscle tone, strength and mobility.
Swimming combines all the benefits of both aqua aerobics and aqua exercise. Breast and backstroke are the best swimming movements for pregnancy as you do not need to rotate your body while doing them and they require less exertion.
Both strokes help to counteract the increased strain in the back due to the weight of pregnancy.
Many women find that pregnancy forces their spines and shoulders to round forward and the pelvis to tilt out of alignment. The breaststroke gently strengthens the muscles and counteracts that tendency.
This stroke also lengthens the chest muscles and shortens the back muscles, two areas that typically become misaligned as your body changes during your pregnancy.
While exercising in water is quite safe, there are a few dos and don’ts.
- Drink water, even in water. There is no official recommendation for how much water pregnant women should drink while exercising, but a good guideline is to drink one cup before you start your workout, one cup for every 20 minutes of exercise, and one cup after you get out of the pool. In hot, humid weather, you’ll need more.
- Use a snorkel to relieve the pressure on your neck created when you lift your head for each breath.
- The appropriate level of exercise will depend on how fit you were before you fell pregnant.
- Listen to your body. Dizziness and fatigue is not uncommon in the first 12 weeks. Some women lose their balance as their centre of gravity shifts. Consult your gynae if you have bleeding, shortness of breath, or pain in the back or pelvis.
- Don’t do any strenuous exercise in hot weather.
- If you can’t talk easily while exercising, you’re overdoing it.
- Don’t push off with one leg at a time – push off with both feet when you turn at the end of the pool.
- Don’t exhaust yourself. You may need to slow down as your pregnancy progresses. If you go to an exercise class, make sure that the teacher knows you’re pregnant.
- Don’t jump or dive into the pool.
- Don’t expect to maintain your pre-pregnancy swiftness, and stop immediately when you experience dizziness, headache, or cramping.
- As you build your fitness levels with each workout, you will come out of the pool feeling energised and great for the healthy gift you just gave your body. Discuss your program with your doctor and make sure it is medically advisable.
Most of all, enjoy it: lay back, and feel the relief of weightless.