It is recommended to combine cardiovascular exercises with weight training of moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes, 3 to 4 times a week. However, it is important to respect one’s physical capacity and to take appropriate precautions.
Moderate cardiovascular exercise increases the rate at which the heart beats. It is accompanied by light breathlessness which increases cardiovascular endurance. Here are some recommended activities: walking, cycling, swimming, aerobic dance and cross-country skiing. These physical activities allow a better circulation of oxygen between the mother and her unborn baby and reduce the risk of edema and varicose veins for the mother.
In addition, it is important to work on muscle tone and flexibility. These activities allow a woman to maintain or increase muscle strength and to improve her pregnant posture. For example, doing exercises to reinforce the pelvic floor (muscle at the base of pelvis) can reduce the risk of lumbar pain and urinary incontinence. (see example below).
Example of an exercise that reinforces the pelvic floor (Birthing Centre, CHUM)
- Lie on the back, knees bent, feet and knees slightly apart
- Contract the pelvic floor muscles by pulling upwards, as if you were trying to hold in urine or gas
- Hold for 5 to 10 seconds and release without stopping breathing
- Release for 10-20 seconds
For more examples of activities that strengthen muscles and improve flexibility, consult the document of Kino Quebec, Active for Life (p23-30)
It is advisable for a pregnant woman to consult her doctor before engaging in any physical activity. It is especially true for those:
- with health problems such as cardiovascular disease, restrictive pulmonary disease, morbid obesity or anemia.
- with problems related to pregnancy such as previous episodes of early labor or the birth of a low birth weight baby, blood loss or placenta previa (a placenta that is too low in the uterus).
Necessary precautions will be presented in the following article.