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Physical Activity Recommendations and Precautions

Recommendations for Exercise in Pregnancy

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The physical activity recommendations during pregnancy are to engage in moderate-intensity activity on most days, if not all, for at least 30 minutes. An activity is moderate in intensity if it increases your breathing and heart rate but not so much that you can’t talk comfortably, however, you shouldn’t be able to sing. Examples include:

    • Brisk walking
    • Bicycling
    • Swimming
    • Aqua aerobics
    • Dancing
    • Pilates
    • Low-impact aerobics

During your last three months of pregnancy moderate exercise can generally continue safely, but no more than three sessions per week of vigorous exercise are recommended. If you have high blood pressure or any medical conditions, check with your health professional.

Tips

If you were regularly active before pregnancy you can usually safely continue the level of exercise you were doing prior to pregnancy. However check with your health practitioner and be mindful of the precautions when exercising in pregnancy. Some modifications to type, duration and intensity of activity may be needed later in pregnancy.

If you were inactive or sedentary before becoming pregnant, it is best to start off slowly; 15 minutes of activity about three times per week. Once you can tolerate this then gradually increase to 30 minutes per session and more frequently. Check with your health practitioner before you start a new exercise program.

If you find it difficult to exercise for 30 minutes straight consider breaking your session into three x ten minute sessions. This can be helpful when you are starting a new program or as your pregnancy progresses. Supplement moderate-intensity exercises with lower-intensity and incidental activities:

    • Kegel / pelvic floor muscle exercises – which are important to help control your muscles during labour and avoid complications such as haemorrhoids or a leaky bladder. Pelvic floor exercises (external link) 
    • Take the stairs instead of the lift or elevator.
    • Park further away from your destination and walk the rest of the way.
    • Walk to see the neighbour or a work colleague instead of calling.
    • Walk or ride when you just need to make a short trip to the corner store or post box.
    • If you are feeling short of breath or light-headed you are pushing yourself too far. The aim of physical activity in pregnancy is to get your blood pumping and muscles working enough to tone-up and release endorphins without causing any specific body aches and pains.
  • For more information see:
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Precautions When Exercising in Pregnancy

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Facts

    • Your ligaments are relaxed by pregnancy hormones in preparation for the birth so you are more prone to joint injury.
    • Your heart rate increases in pregnancy so you may appear to be working harder if you use Target Heart Rate (HR) (external link) to work out the intensity of your exercise. Exercise intensity in pregnancy can also be monitored using a method known as Borg’s Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE) (external link). This measures how hard you feel your body is working.
    • Traditional abdominal exercises such as sit-ups can cause diastasis recti (this is the splitting of connective tissue between your abdominal muscles, which appears as rippling or bulging along the midline).
    • Your centre of gravity is shifted forward due to the weight of your enlarged breasts and uterus which can cause poor posture, back pain and an increased risk of falls.
    • Your blood pressure drops in the second trimester of pregnancy, which can cause dizziness with rapid changes of position – from lying to standing for example.
    • Your core body temperature naturally rises during pregnancy and further increases due to prolonged intense exercise, particularly in hot, humid weather or use of saunas can cause problems for your baby.

Tips

    • Always check with your health practitioner before starting an exercise regime to make sure it is safe for you;
    • Be mindful of your limitations – pregnancy is a time to be active but you should listen to your body and not push yourself too hard;
    • To prevent joint injury, avoid rapid changes in direction and bouncing during exercises. Any stretching should be performed with controlled movements;
    • Avoid exercising on your back after the fourth month of pregnancy as your enlarged uterus and reduced heart rate may decrease the flow of blood from your lower body. Instead perform exercises when lying on your side or standing;
    • Avoid traditional abdominal exercises such as sit-ups to prevent splitting of connective tissue between your abdominal muscles. Instead, from a standing, sitting or all-fours position, draw your belly button towards your spine, breathe out while pulling in your belly, hold the position and count to 10. Relax and breathe in. Repeat as many times a day as you are able;
    • As a counter balance to your shifting centre of gravity, keep your shoulders back, a neutral pelvis alignment and do upper and lower back exercises to improve your posture and to reduce the risk of falls;
    • To protect against overheating, exercise at a moderate intensity (see table below for details) and when the air temperature is comfortable. In the summer months you may need to exercise in the early evening or morning on hot days, or even inside in air conditioning. Always avoid exercise if you have a fever;
    • Check the intensity of your physical activity using target heart rate or perceived exertion as shown below.

TARGET HEART RATE ZONES

The Target Heart Rate (HR) zones shown below are appropriate for most pregnant women and are in line with moderate intensity physical activity. Work at the lower end of the HR range at the start of a new exercise program and in late pregnancy. How do I measure my heart rate? (external link)

Age Range

Target Heart Rate
(beats per minute)

< 20

140-155

20-29

135-150

30-39

130-145

≥ 40

125-140

RATING OF PERCEIVED EXERTION (RPE)

RPE measures how hard you feel your body is working. Think of how you would rate the intensity of your exercise and check where that is in the scale. A range of about 12-14 (somewhat hard) is appropriate for most pregnant women. This is also a good way to check the accuracy of your heart rate target zone. For more information see Pregnancy and exercise (external link)

Scale range Description
6  
7 very, very light
8  
9 somewhat light
10  
11 fairly light
12  
13 somewhat hard
14  
15 hard
16  
17 very hard
18  
19 very, very hard
20  
    • Make sure you keep well hydrated – drink water before, during and after exercise.
    • Ensure you breathe continuously during exercise so avoid exercise that involves holding your breath and straining – such as lifting weights that are too heavy. This is not good for your blood pressure.
    • If you are not feeling up to exercising one day, then rest or settle for a lighter activity. It is important to listen to your body – but maintain regular activity.

If any of these symptoms occur  stop exercising and to consult a doctor:

    • Excessive shortness of breath
    • Chest pain
    • Painful and persistent uterine contractions
    • Vaginal bleeding
    • Any excessive fluid from the vagina
    • Dizziness or faintness
    • Changes in usual foetal movements
    • Sudden and excessive swelling of the ankles, hands or face
    • Increasing back pain, pubic pain or pain in the abdomen
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>> Tips for Getting More Active During Pregnancy >>

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