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Your Guide to Pregnancy Fitness

pregnant woman walking

Pregnancy used to be an excuse to put your feet up and feast on Fudgsicles. But now, not so much. In fact, getting off the couch -- and often -- can help you have a smoother pregnancy. Experts recommend that you exercise for 30 minutes a day, most days, which means pregnancy is no reason to push "get in better shape" to the bottom of your to-do list. "Every morning during my second pregnancy, just when I was starting to feel like I wanted to flop onto the couch, I'd strap my toddler into the stroller and walk for an hour," says Stephanie Kilroy, of Reno, Nevada. "I felt energized and relaxed and could sleep better."

6 Reasons to Get Fit

Your energy will increase. "The endorphins I got from hiking and lifting weights gave me the extra boost I needed every day," says Nan Rothchild, a mom of two, of Park City, Utah. Indeed, research confirms that prenatal exercise increases both energy and stamina.

And so will your confidence. Hey there, sexy pregnant lady! Who needs a better reason than looking good to get moving? "As I put on more weight and my curves got curvier, I kept walking," says Suzanne Knittel, of Hermosa Beach, California. "Staying as fit as I could made me feel better about the way my body was changing."

Plus, you'll feel better overall. Exercise helps things move, if you get what we mean, which means you're less likely to be constipated. It also enables your body to release endorphins. (These feel-good chemicals helped Rothchild battle her mood swings during pregnancy.) And lower-body strength-training moves such as squats and lunges can help relieve backaches.

Did we mention it's good for your baby? Exercising decreases the likelihood you'll develop gestational diabetes, which creates a host of risks for baby, including preterm birth. And recent research by The American Physiological Society found that exercise is also beneficial for the developing fetus's heart.

Labor will be easier -- thank goodness! You wouldn't run or even walk a 10K without training. So why head into a marathon (as childbirth educators often call labor) without preparing for it? When you exercise, you learn to control your breathing and listen to your body's signals about thirst and fatigue -- skills you'll definitely put to good use while in labor. Studies show that women who exercise regularly have fewer c-sections and are less likely to need forceps during a vaginal delivery. And, best of all, exercisers often experience less pain throughout their deliveries!

You'll get your pre-baby body back faster. "I got into my skinny jeans way sooner," mom, Stephanie Kilroy says. She gained 40 pounds during her first pregnancy (when she wasn't exercising all that much) but put on a more reasonable 30 pounds while pregnant the second time around.

Celebrity Pregnancy Workout: Total Body Tune-Up
Celebrity Pregnancy Workout: Total Body Tune-Up
Pregnancy Workouts: Best 10 Minute Workout
Pregnancy Workouts: Best 10 Minute Workout
pregnant woman swimming

The good news is that most exercises (like walking, yoga, pilates, swimming, rowing, Spinning, and lifting weights) are safe during pregnancy -- and fun. But avoid those that may cause any injury: snow- and waterskiing, horseback riding, scuba diving, skating (ice, roller, and in-line), and bicycling (except on a stationary bike). Your balance changes during pregnancy, so even if you've never been klutzy, you'll be safest if you avoid activities that pose a risk of falling.

If you're not big on traditional exercise, you can weave in bouts of around-the-house moves that burn at least 45 calories in ten minutes. Some examples, for a 150-pound woman:

• Dancing around the kitchen = 45 calories
• Walking a dog = 50 calories
• Mopping = 51 calories
• Washing windows = 51 calories
• Planting flowers = 54 calories
• Raking leaves = 57 calories

Also, any movement will help. Start slow if you're not used to exercising and feel overwhelmed. If you need to, take baby steps and begin with just five minutes a day, each week increasing your daily workout by five minutes until you're exercising 30 minutes a day. You'll see progress soon enough!

Don't have time to get to the gym? Scratch that excuse! You can exercise at home. If you're only going to purchase one exercise item, buy a balance ball. Gaiam's Total Body BalanceBall Kit ($25; gaiam.com) includes a workout DVD, an exercise band, and a burst-resistant ball. Ball exercises are easy on your back but strengthen your core muscles -- which you'll need for labor. Plus, readers tell us that holding a baby and rocking gently on a ball does wonders for soothing a crying baby, so you can use it postpartum also.

Advice from Moms

More than 60 percent of pregnant women exercise, according to one study. How do you psych yourself up to work it? Here are some tips from real moms.

"I've taken up yoga for the first time. Yoga class is the only place where I see other pregnant women on a regular basis, and it's nice to have the chance to chat and say hello."
Keryn Means, Seattle, Washington

"Once a week, I get together with a girlfriend who is also 28 weeks pregnant. Rain or shine, we walk outside for about 45 minutes. The fresh air and good company do wonders."
Rebecca Schaffer, Westfield, New Jersey

"I heard that exercise, particularly walking, helps to induce labor. My mom and two aunts were all two weeks late with their babies, so I walked a lot and ended up delivering right on time!"
Ashlie Kincannon, Melbourne, Florida

"My motivation comes from knowing that I don't want to go through the excess weight gain and misery I had with my first pregnancy. I gained 55 pounds the first time!"
Rachael Kosal, Sedalia, Missouri