A good pregnancy cardio workout is beneficial to all soon-to-be mothers, whether you were active before pregnancy or not. If you were physically active before your pregnancy, you should be able to continue your activity in moderation. If you weren’t, then this is a chance to get started and reap all the benefits of a cardio workout for you and your baby.
The American Council of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week. This translates to 30 minutes of exercise each day. In this article, we cover why and how you should do cardio during pregnancy and give some tips for your safety.
Is It Safe To Exercise During Pregnancy?
The ACOG states that you should be able to carry on with your cardio-based activities throughout pregnancy if they are safe for both mother and baby. The only time when pregnant women need to avoid doing any form of cardio training is when there is a contraindication that might put the mother or baby at risk (7).
If you have a medical problem, such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes, exercise may not be advisable. Exercise may also be harmful if you have a pregnancy-related condition such as (6):
- Bleeding or spotting
- Low placenta
- Threatened or recurrent miscarriage
- Previous premature births or history of early labor
- Weak cervix
Talk with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. They can also give you personal exercise guidelines based on your medical history.
The Benefits Of Cardio Workouts During Pregnancy
Exercise during pregnancy is good for both mothers and unborn babies.
Here are some possible benefits of following a regular exercise program that includes cardio workouts:
Lower Risk Of Gestational Diabetes
The risk of gestational diabetes, a health complication that can cause complications during delivery and affect the baby’s development, is reduced with physical activity (6).
Reduce Pregnancy Discomfort
Some women experience backaches, bloating, constipation, and swelling during pregnancy. Regular exercise, especially cardio workouts, can relieve some of your discomforts. It has also been shown to improve mood and reduce anxiety by releasing endorphins in the brain (4).
Tone Your Muscles
Exercise during pregnancy tones your muscles and helps you recover faster after birth. This is not only good for you but also for your baby since it improves uterine blood flow, which provides nutrients to the fetus. This study suggests that exercising regularly during pregnancy can help speed recovery time postpartum by getting rid of edema in the legs, arms, thighs, ankles, and face (7).
Many women feel moody as they approach their third trimester. Moderate exercise helps alleviate this symptom by releasing endorphins in the brain. This triggers feelings of happiness and reduces anxiety and stress levels (4).
Prevent Excess Weight Gain
There is a specific amount of weight gain that is healthy during pregnancy. However, excess weight gain can cause complications during pregnancy, delivery, and the child’s development. With regular exercise that includes cardio workouts, in addition to a healthy diet, you are shifting the odds in your favor to have a safe pregnancy without excess weight gain (7).
Cortisol is a hormone that is released when you are stressed or undergoing a stressful situation. A regular exercise program reduces stress levels by lowering cortisol levels in the body. This allows you to sleep better at night (5). Quality sleep is important for you and your baby because it gives you time to rest as your baby continues to develop.
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Changes In Your Body During Pregnancy That Can Affect Your Exercise Routine
The best cardio pregnancy workout is one that takes into account your body changes.
Some of the changes to consider include:
Pregnancy hormones relax your joints and ligaments (11). As a result, you may become off balance. It is important to consider this when you are choosing an exercise program that includes cardio workouts such as walking, jogging, or running because it affects coordination and can make you more prone to injuries like ankle sprains.
Most of the extra weight you gain during pregnancy is in the front of your body. Your extended belly shifts your center of gravity, placing stress on the joints and muscles in your pelvis and lower back. Your balance decreases, and this puts you at risk of falling (2).
Increased Need For Oxygen
Pregnancy can cause shortness of breath due to increased blood flow throughout the body (9). To adjust for this during exercises that include cardio workouts, make sure you are taking slow deep breaths, never holding your breath, or pushing yourself beyond what is comfortable for you. At low-intensity levels, you should be able to talk in full sentences without too much difficulty.
What Is The Best Cardio Workouts During Pregnancy?
There are different benefits to each type of cardio workout; therefore, you should determine which one is right for you.
Swimming is a great cardio workout for pregnant women because it does not put a strain on any joints and relaxes tired muscles. It also provides good resistance training as your bump gets bigger, making it an ideal choice for prenatal yoga workouts. You can also use a kickboard to tone your arm and shoulder muscles.
We all know that walking is a great cardio workout for everyone, but it benefits even more when you’re pregnant since it’s easy to do and might even be enjoyable as you take in the scenery. Also, walking is an excellent post-pregnancy cardio workout that can help in recovery. You can do brisk walks or walk at a slow pace. Make sure to wear the right shoes with arch support and lightweight soles.
If you have been an athlete before pregnancy, running is one of the top recommended cardio workouts during pregnancy. However, it’s not advisable for women who weren’t physically active before they were expecting because this may be too intense or cause injuries while running on higher or harder surfaces (e.g., concrete). When you run, make sure you’re comfortable and gradually build up your intensity.
Pilates is an ideal prenatal workout because it strengthens your core without putting too much strain on your muscles and joints. It also provides good resistance training for pregnant women who aren’t familiar with the exercise before they got pregnant (8).
Yoga is another great prenatal workout because it works on strengthening and stretching your body. It also helps relax your mind and reduce stress which is a very common problem for pregnant women (10).
Some of the most basic yoga exercises include:
- Downward facing dog
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While this is among the best cardio workout for pregnancy, it’s not always suitable for all pregnant women. However, if you’ve been very physically active before pregnancy, you might find that moderate-intensity activities are not enough.
You can modify your HIIT workouts to include pregnancy-safe exercises and medium impact pregnancy cardio workouts. You can also follow a pregnancy workout program that has been designed by an expert, with approval from your OBGYN.
Have you been wondering what is the best pregnancy cardio workout indoors? Here you go- cycling. Cycling is a great cardio activity, but you might not want to do it outdoors while pregnant. Your growing belly and uneven terrain put you more at risk of toppling over. However, indoor cycling has fewer risks and may be beneficial for you, provided that you don’t overdo it.
Tips For Pregnancy Safe Workouts
Here are a few precautions you can take during your cardio workout to ensure your safety and that of your unborn child:
Dehydration can be very dangerous during pregnancy (3). Make sure to drink water before, during, and after any workout session to help your body cool down. It will also prepare you for the next exercise session by keeping your muscles hydrated.
Avoid Becoming Overheated
Overheating can cause a lot of harm to you and your baby, so you must take measures to avoid becoming overheated. Some of the measures you can take to prevent this include:
- Dressing in loose-fitting and breathable workout clothes
- Working out in a temperature-controlled room
- Drinking fluids throughout the workout session, especially if it’s outdoors
- Warm-up and Cool Down
You should always warm up gradually, at a very low-intensity level, before doing exercises. And, it is important to cool down properly when you’re done. For optimal results, aim for 10 minutes of warm-up before exercise followed by 5 minutes of stretching/cooling down afterward.
Avoid Lying Flat On Your Back
When exercising in late pregnancy, avoid lying flat on your back because this position puts pressure on the vena cava vein, which can decrease blood flow to the baby leading to less oxygen supply. This could result in fetal distress if left unattended (1).
Listen To Your Body
Pay close attention to what your body is telling you. If it hurts or feels uncomfortable, stop and find an alternative exercise that will be just as effective but won’t put you at risk of injury.
Pregnancy requires a lot of physical work from you. Carrying around extra weight month after month takes its toll on your body by causing backaches, fatigue, swollen feet, etc. Cardio is a great way to stay active during your pregnancy, and you can opt for swimming, walking, running, Pilates, yoga, or HIIT. Make sure to consult your doctor before starting any new workout routine and listen to your body; if something feels off or hurts, stop immediately and take a break.
Check out this 20-min Full Body Workout at Home.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Back to basics: avoiding the supine position in pregnancy (2017, nih.gov)
- Changes in balance strategy in the third trimester (2015, nih.gov)
- Effect of dehydration during pregnancy on birth weight and length in West jakarta (2021, cambridge.org)
- Exercise in Pregnancy (2015, nih.gov)
- Exercising for Better Sleep (n.d., hopkinsmedicine.org)
- Experiences of physical activity during pregnancy in Danish nulliparous women with a physically active life before pregnancy. A qualitative study (2010, biomedcentral.com)
- Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period (2020, acog.org)
- Pilates program design and health benefits for pregnant women: A practitioners’ survey (2018, pubmed.gov)
- Shortness of Breath In Pregnancy (n.d., harvard.edu)
- Systematic Review of Yoga for Pregnant Women: Current Status and Future Directions (2012, nih.gov)
- The effect of relaxin on the musculoskeletal system (2013, nih.gov)