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Safe Exercise During Pregnancy, from Yoga to Marathon Training

pregnant woman stretching

Regular physical activity in all phases of life has many health benefits. Pregnancy presents a great opportunity to continue or begin new exercise programs. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology published a Committee Opinion in April 2020 stating that physical activity in pregnancy has minimal risks and has been shown to benefit most women. As with any exercise program, a thorough clinical evaluation needs to be performed before recommending or continuing exercise in pregnancy.

Women with uncomplicated pregnancies are encouraged to exercise before, during and after pregnancy. Some of the health benefits of exercise during pregnancy include reduced risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and cesarean section. Other benefits include improved psychological well-being, ability to better manage weight, and improvement with symptoms such as low back pain.

What Exercises are Safe for Pregnancy?

Exercises that are safe during pregnancy include:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Running
  • Racquet sports
  • Strength training

All pregnant women should avoid any contact sports, activities with high risk of falling, scuba diving or sky diving.

Marathon Training and Pregnancy: Is it Safe?

In the last several Olympics many pregnant athletes competed. They represented several events such as speed skating, fencing, snowboarding, equestrian, sledding, archery and shotgun shooting. One of the more recent famous pregnant athletes is Kerri Walsh, who won an Olympic medal in beach volleyball.

Running a marathon during pregnancy is somewhat controversial. However, if you are a highly conditioned athlete running long distances may be ok for you. There are several guidelines to follow for endurance athletes to make your program safe for you and your baby.

Stay hydrated. Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after your work out. Many studies have shown that conditioned athletes core body temperature does not rise significantly if they take precautions. These include good hydration, appropriate clothing to wick sweat to keep cool, and avoiding exercise during very hot or humid times of the day.

Increase calories. Calorie requirements during pregnancy change and usually require 200 to 300 additional calories per day. If you exercise you may require more calories. Theses should be divided into five or six small meals per day.

Warm up and cool down. A hormone produced during pregnancy called relaxin can soften ligaments and joints, making you more prone to injury. It is very important to warm up and cool down when exercising.

Who Should Avoid Strenuous Exercise?

There are certain medical conditions where women should avoid strenuous exercise during pregnancy. These include:

  • Significant heart or lung disease
  • Incompetent or weak cervix
  • Pregnant with multiples
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Placenta previa
  • Premature labor
  • Ruptured membranes
  • Pregnancy induced hypertension
  • Severe anemia

Steven Galun, MD, is a board-certified OB/GYN physician at University Hospitals with expertise in the management of exercise during pregnancy.

Related Links

Here at University Hospitals, we have several OB/GYN physicians, certified nurse midwives and nurse practitioners who can help you make the right exercise choices, whether you are a novice or highly competitive athlete. Learn more about UH OB/GYN and Women’s Health Services.