Benefits of physical activity for expectant and new mums
Monday, October 14, 2019
Written by Lizzy Horlock - Maternal Physical Activity Coordinator
Regular physical activity while pregnant can help both you and your baby. Our maternal physical activity coordinator Lizzy Horlock explains how.
Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health, and it has lasting impacts for you and your baby. Research shows that regular physical activity can improve your overall quality of life as well as help reduce your risk for several diseases and health conditions.
The benefits of being active
Being active 30 minutes every day can strengthen your muscles, heart and lungs, and give you the extra energy and strength needed for pregnancy, birth and the early stages with a newborn. There are loads of other benefits including:
- An improved posture which can reduce lower back ache
- Improved circulation which can help prevent varicose veins
- Some relief from ailments such as leg cramps, constipation, high blood pressure, fatigue and bloating
- Increased muscle strength to get you ready for carrying bubs and the baby equipment
- Combined with a healthy and nutritious diet, there are lifelong benefits of regular exercise such as a reduced risk of developing type 2
diabetes or cardiovascular disease
- One of the biggest benefits of being active is psychological wellbeing. Exercise makes us feel better, and if you’re part of a group class there’s also the added bonus of socialising with other women who understand what it’s like to be pregnant or be a new mum.
An important piece of advice, though: everyone is different, so before you get started check in with your doctor or midwife to discuss any new activities you plan to do and make sure the exercise is good for you and your baby.
Ways to get active
Aqua Mums classes
Whether you consider yourself a ‘water baby’ or not, spending time in the water while you are pregnant has loads of benefits for both you and your baby, before and after birth! Aqua classes are an enjoyable way to keep you fit and mobile, and they encourage you to develop those lifelong activity patterns which you role model to your children.
- Gentle water resistance to help you build strength
- Loosen and relieve tension in your shoulders
- Tone, strengthen and stretch the muscles of your entire body, especially your sides which are often overlooked
- Promote upper body flexibility and help you identify and control upper body tension
- Allow you to practice running and coordination for overall conditioning
- The water supports your body, so there’s no impact and a lower risk of injury
- Help body alignment, relieve strain on back muscles, and strengthens abdominal muscles
- Floating is widely recognised as relaxing, and helps to reduce stress and increase positive endorphins in the body.
What to wear at the pool?
Try a swim suit or a sports bra for something if you’re after something more versatile. Don’t wear anything too long or baggy.
New Aqua Mum classes in the Bay of Plenty
Rotorua Aquatic Centre, Whakatāne Fitness and Aquatic Centres, Mount Hot Pools, Baywave and Te Puke Swim School are now offering Aqua Mums classes for all mums – pregnant and post-birth. Check out their website below to find out more:
Pelvic floor muscles
Your pelvic floor muscles are key support and often become weaker during pregnancy and childbirth. There are exercises you can do to strengthen these muscles and help prevent bladder leakage. Have a chat to your midwife, doctor or specialist physiotherapists to discuss suitable pelvic floor exercises.
Activities that are low-impact or non-weight bearing - such as swimming, walking and cycling - are generally the best cardiovascular choices for pregnant or post-birth women. Other options include low-impact exercise classes, cross-training machines, stationery cycling and treadmills.
Intense exercise (pulse higher than 150 bpm) can have an impact on the baby, so it’s best to exercise at a moderate or mild level. Recommended intensities are 60-75% maximum heart rate for those less active and 70-85% maximum heart rate for those more active. Shorter periods of exercise (15-20 minutes) may help prevent stress to you or your baby.
If you usually do regular strength training, there's every chance you can safely continue. Strong muscles will come in handy once your baby has arrived. A physiotherapist or professional trainer who understands your body's changes during pregnancy can help you identify an appropriate strength training programme, and remember to check in with your midwife or doctor.
Tips to get started
Here are some tips to get you started or to keep you moving:
- You’re more likely to stay active if you choose an enjoyable activity suitable for your fitness level. Some good options include going for a walk, swimming or aqua jogging.
- Contact sports are best for after pregnancy.
- Exercise in cooler temperatures or shorter periods in extremely hot conditions.
- Take a break before hitting the point of exhaustion.
- Leave the heavy lifting to someone else and activities that involve straining or holding your breath can be enjoyed after birth.
- Ligaments can become more loose during pregnancy so choose exercises that are not overloading the pelvic connective tissue.
- After the first trimester, choose exercises that avoid lying flat on your back.
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