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Alternative Exercises

At this point, training for a marathon is definitely not a good fitness option. Instead consider activities that allow you to build strength and increase your flexibility gently. Keep in mind that some of these activities include moves that require balancing, which can be a challenge during pregnancy. To avoid falling and injuring yourself during balance moves, hold on to a chair or wall for support.

Yoga. This ancient Indian system of breathing and exercise can help ease the discomforts of pregnancy and prepare your body for labor. Yoga postures, also known as asanas, gently stretch and strengthen the body, while controlled breathing and meditation relax and focus the mind.

There are several schools of yoga. Although they teach similar positions, they differ in their intensity; some incorporate strength and cardiovascular training as well. Hatha is a generic term for yoga; it is generally used to describe gentler kinds of yoga.

Stick with gentle yoga. Avoid Bikram (also known as hot yoga), which is practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees. It's not good for your body to get that hot. High-intensity power yoga classes are not appropriate for most pregnant women. In yoga, as in all exercises during pregnancy, don't strain while stretching -- stretch only to the point where you feel a mild tension; then relax as you hold the stretch. Do not bounce or strain.

Tai chi. Originated in China around the 13th century, tai chi is a slow, graceful exercise that enhances relaxation skills, physical alignment, and mental focus while building leg strength, endurance, and stability.

Tai chi is a great exercise for pregnant women because it is a nonimpact activity with a low risk of injury. Because it focuses on posture, it helps prevent back pain by teaching you how to avoid arching your back to accommodate your growing belly. Tai chi also reduces stress and sharpens coordination.

Pilates. Named after its early-20th-century founder, Pilates (pronounced puh-LAH-teez) builds flexibility and strength through a series of controlled movements performed either on specially designed exercise equipment and supervised by a trained Pilates instructor or on an exercise mat. Pilates, traditionally used by dancers for injury rehabilitation, has become popular during the past few years. It's a favorite exercise of many celebrities who credit it for toning and strengthening their bodies.

Pilates is also a favorite of obstetricians because it focuses on strengthening the core abdominals and lower-back muscles.

Finding a class. Many health clubs, YWCAs, spas, community centers, hospitals, and HMOs offer these classes. Look for classes with an experienced instructor and, ideally, only 12 to 15 participants. The instructor should make you feel safe and should be sensitive and willing to listen to you; she should not be pushy or militant. If possible choose a class designed for pregnant women. If not, be sure to tell your instructor that you are pregnant; she can warn you if certain postures aren't suitable for a pregnant woman. While in class listen to your body and don't do anything that feels uncomfortable. If you are more comfortable exercising at home, there are many yoga, tai chi, and Pilates books, DVDs, and videos available to buy or rent. Choose ones that focus on pregnancy.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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