Pregnancy, Fitness, and COVID-19
What you need to know about staying active and healthy
Finding ways to keep up a fitness routine during the pandemic can be tough. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do at home or outside, without heading to the gym. The challenge for pregnant women is finding the right balance between the need for physical activity and the need to adhere to social distancing guidelines to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends expectant mothers get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day. Creating an at-home fitness and stretching routine can accomplish this goal, and it’s easier than you might think.
Keeping mom and baby healthy
“Exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum phase is essential for quality sleep and good health,” says Sandra M. Hurtado, MD, an obstetrician affiliated with Memorial Hermann Health System. “Check with your healthcare provider, but, usually, if you have an uncomplicated pregnancy, you can engage in both aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises.”
Aerobic activity strengthens your heart, helps you maintain a healthy weight gain, and may decrease the risk of conditions like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Strength training and stretching help to ease back pain that many women experience as pregnancy progresses. In addition to the physical benefits, exercise is also a great way to improve your mood and promote good mental health.
While we are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, pregnant women should take some extra precautions, like avoiding gyms and fitness centers. “It’s important to minimize your contact with others,” says Dr. Hurtado. “Going to the gym is not a good idea because social distancing is difficult, and there is no way to guarantee that an asymptomatic COVID-19 carrier will not expose you.”
At this point, at-home or outdoor exercising are the best ways to be fit while staying safe.
“Pregnant women should create a fitness routine with a combination of aerobic and strength conditioning,” Dr. Hurtado says. She reminds expectant mothers that it is important to drink plenty of water, and to always include time to warm up, stretch and cool down.
Walking, jogging and cycling are three heart-healthy activities that are easy to do while social distancing. You can set your own pace and adjust the intensity as your pregnancy progresses. Remember to pay attention to the weather, especially during the summer, and avoid times of the day that are too hot.
“If joint and back pain develop, water exercises are best to relieve the added weight burden with pregnancy,” advises Dr. Hurtado. If you have access to a pool, take some time to swim or walk laps. Both are great aerobic exercise, with less stress on your body.
You can have a great workout without leaving your home, by taking advantage of free online video instruction for stretching and strength training. Browse YouTube or do an online search for workout videos and you will find options that are appropriate for pregnancy, like stretching, yoga and mat Pilates.
Don’t underestimate the value of stretching. “It may seem simple, but stretching improves pain and increases flexibility and range of motion,” says Dr. Hurtado. You can begin a stretching routine by placing a mat or towel on the floor, and following along with online videos.
Take it easy
Pregnancy is not the time to ramp up your normal fitness routine to more strenuous levels. “Using the talk-test is a way to measure exertion,” Dr. Hurtado says. “As long as you can carry on a conversation during exercise, you are not overexerting yourself.”
After 20 weeks gestation, Dr. Hurtado says pregnant women should be extra aware of their bodies while exercising. “Avoid long periods of time lying flat on your back, and stop exercising if you have any warning signs like: dizziness, unusual shortness of breath, uterine contractions, or vaginal bleeding.” She also advises against contact sports or activities where you could fall and hit your belly.
Exercise during pregnancy will help keep mother and baby strong and healthy. During the pandemic, remember to adjust what you do and where you do it, so you can have the best start possible when your baby arrives.
The information in this article was accurate as of August 3, 2020.