The benefits of moving more during pregnancy begin immediately and last your whole life. Your baby will start reaping the benefits in utero, too. Here's a laundry list of reasons to start exercising today, along with excuse-busting ways to overcome some common obstacles.
1. You're likely to gain less weight. Research shows you might put on 7 pounds less than pregnant women who don't work out, while still staying within the healthy weight gain range.
2. Labor and delivery may be easier. No guarantees, of course, but strong abs and a fit cardiovascular system can give you more oomph and stamina for the pushing stage. One study found that prenatal water aerobics regulars were 58 percent less likely to request pain medication during labor than non-exercisers.
3. You lower your gestational diabetes risk by as much as 27 percent. High blood sugar during pregnancy puts you at extremely high risk for developing type II diabetes in the decade after delivering and raises the odds of preterm delivery or having an overweight baby. If you do develop it—and many fit women do because genetics and age play a significant role—exercise may help prevent or delay your need for insulin or other medications.
4. You get that "prenatal-spin-class high." Active moms- to-be report better moods than their sedentary peers, both immediately following a workout and in general throughout their pregnancies.
5. You're less likely to cry, "Oh, my aching back." Some two-thirds of pregnant women experience back pain, but water workouts, pelvic tilts, and yoga can offer relief. Exercise during the second half of pregnancy seems to be especially helpful.
6. You're less likely to get constipated. Pregnant women's intestinal tracts often get backed up due to high progesterone levels and a growing uterus, but exercise, along with a high-fiber diet, keeps your digestive system humming.
7. You have more energy. On days when lifting your remote control seems like a tall order, even a 10-minute walk can revive you.
8. Odds are, you'll deliver a svelter baby. Babies born with excess fat are significantly more likely to become overweight kindergarteners, and overweight newborns of moms with gestational diabetes are more prone to develop diabetes later in life.
9. You can enjoy the greatest flexibility of your life. Relaxin, a pregnancy hormone that loosens your pelvic joints in preparation for delivery, also relaxes the rest of your joints. With careful stretches, like those done in prenatal yoga workouts, you can capitalize on this window of opportunity.
10. You're more likely to avoid a forceps delivery, C-section, or other intervention. Regular exercisers are 75 percent less likely to need a forceps delivery, 55 percent less likely to have an episiotomy, and up to four times less likely to have a Cesarean section, research has found.
11. You're likely to be fitter in middle age. In a study that followed women for 20 years after delivery, those who'd exercised throughout pregnancy could run two miles 2 ½ minutes faster than those who'd taken a workout break while pregnant. The continuous exercisers were also working out a lot more.
12. You'll get positive attention. Everyone smiles when they see a pregnant woman on a power walk. No one is more popular at the gym than the pregnant woman on the biceps machine!
13. You feel less like a beached whale and more like a hot mama. Women who exercise throughout pregnancy have a better body image than those who sit out the nine months.
14. Your labor may be shorter. A landmark study found that among well-conditioned women who delivered vaginally, those who had continued training throughout their pregnancy experienced active labor for 4 hours and 24 minutes compared with 6 hours and 22 minutes for those who'd quit training early on. Two hours less of hard labor is nothing to sneer at!
15. You learn to chill out. With its emphasis on breathing, meditation and joyful movement, prenatal yoga helps stressed-out moms-to-be stay calm. Plus, a regular prenatal yoga practice can teach you to relax rather than tense up when you feel discomfort, a helpful skill during labor.
16. If you work out in water, you enjoy a wonderful sense of weightlessness. For some women, swimming or water aerobics may provide their only relief from painful foot and ankle swelling.
17. You'll likely experience less leg swelling. Your body retains more fluid during pregnancy, and your growing uterus puts pressure on your veins, impairing the return of blood to your heart. Exercise can limit swelling by improving blood flow.
18. You may be less prone to morning sickness. Though nausea stops many women from exercising, many moms-to-be report that they feel less queasy after a workout or that the exercise takes their minds off the nausea for a short time.
19. You may boost your child's athletic potential. One study found that 20-year-olds who were exposed to exercise in utero performed better at sports than same age peers whose mothers did not exercise during pregnancy.
20. You'll bounce back faster after delivery. Compared with new moms who were inactive during pregnancy, those who exercised are more likely to socialize and enjoy hobbies and entertainment post-baby. They just seem to cope better with the demands of new motherhood.
21. You're likely to be healthier and leaner when your kids head off to college. Twenty years later, fit women who'd exercised throughout pregnancy had gained 7 ½ pounds, compared with 22 pounds for women who had taken a break while pregnant and resumed exercising afterward. The continuous exercisers also had lower cholesterol levels and resting heart rates.
22. The sense of accomplishment and confidence spills over to the rest of your life. Finishing a prenatal power walk makes you feel like you can conquer the world!
23. Your child may have a healthier heart. The developing babies of prenatal exercisers have more efficient hearts than those of non-exercisers, and this higher cardio fitness level seems to last into the childhood years.
24. If you smoke, exercise may help you kick the habit. In a small study, pregnant smokers reported that exercise gave them confidence to quit, decreased their cigarette cravings, boosted their energy and "helped them feel more like a non-smoker."
25. You might sleep better. Some pregnant women who work out say they fall asleep faster, slumber more soundly, and snooze longer than inactive moms-to-be.
26. You'll meet other expectant moms in a prenatal exercise class. Get their phone numbers; you may be meeting up for playdates or babysitting co-ops soon!
27. You may be at lower risk for the No. 1 cause of premature birth. That's preeclampsia, a complication that involves high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine. About 5 percent to 8 percent of pregnant women develop it, and the numbers are growing.
28. You're more likely to avoid prenatal depression. This is especially true if you exercise outdoors because bright light has antidepressant effects. Some 12 percent to 20 percent of pregnant women experience depression, which is linked to poor sleep and marital problems after delivery.
29. You feel more in control. When your body is changing in all kinds of wacky ways and your entire life is about to be transformed in huge, unknown ways, a regular exercise routine offers consistency and the knowledge that you're doing something great for both yourself and your baby.
30. You look better. Exercise increases blood flow to your skin, enhancing that pregnancy glow. Plus, when you're calmer and fitter, it shows.
31. Your children may grow up to be smarter. Some research indicates that kids of moms who work out during pregnancy have better memories, in addition to higher scores on intelligence and language tests.
32. You bust out of your exercise rut. Pregnancy often forces you to try something new— to swim when you used to run, to try Wii Fit Ski instead of snowboarding, to give Pilates a whirl.
33. You keep your immune system humming. Moderate exercise such as walking lowers your risk of catching a cold by as much as half. Researchers believe the data applies to exercising moms-to-be as well.
Walking: Strengthens heart/lungs, increases stamina.
Water Exercise: Strengthens heart/lungs; reduces strain on joints.
Prenatal Pilates: Strengthens entire body, especially core muscles.
Weight Training: Increases muscle tone and strength.
Prenatal Yoga: Increases strength, stamina and relaxation.