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Benefits of pregnancy exercises

Regular exercise is considered as a key component of healthy pregnancy. Exercise guidelines issued by international organizations recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise everyday for women with low-risk pregnancies (no maternal or foetal complications). Regular physical activities and exercises aid in achieving physical and cardiovascular fitness in pregnant women. Other major health benefits conferred by exercise and physical activity in expectant are given below:
  • Boosts the energy level and feeling of well-being
  • Helps to sleep better and manage sleeplessness
  • Reduces pregnancy-associated discomforts such as leg cramps and back pain
  • Relieves stress and constipation
  • Improves appetite, digestion, and blood circulation
  • Strengthens and tones the muscles to ease labour
  • Restores pre-pregnancy figure faster
  • Helps to meet the greater physical needs during motherhood
Reduces the risk for:
  • developing diabetes during pregnancy
  • pregnancy-associated hypertension
  • a probable caesarean section
  • probable medical interventions during labour

Pregnancy exercise: Do’s and don’ts
  • Exercise regularly, at least 3 times a week and not longer than 20 minutes per session
  • Those who were not physically active before pregnancy, should start exercising gently and at a slow pace
  • Warm-up before and cool down after exercising
  • Stretch gently
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Wear comfortable clothing like T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms or leggings
  • Eat enough to support both exercise and pregnancy
  • Wear shoes providing good ankle and foot support
  • Relax adequately
Stop exercising if experiencing:
  • back or pelvic pain
  • swelling of the feet
  • headache
  • nausea
  • dizziness or faintness
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • vaginal bleeding
  • Exercise on a hard surface
  • Exercise immediately after meals
  • Perform bouncy, jerky, and high impact activities
  • Exercise during hot or humid weather
  • Exercise while lying back
  • Stand motionless for long period after initial three months of pregnancy
  • Hold breath during exercising

Recommended sports/physical activities during pregnancy

The expectant should select activities involving least risk for loss of balance or injury.  Vigorous activities should be avoided, especially during the last three months of pregnancy. It is important to consult the doctor for any contraindications to exercise, prior to the beginning of an exercise programme.
Recommendations of various sport activities during pregnancy are enumerated in Table 1.

Table 1: Sports/ physical activities that are encouraged or discouraged during pregnancy.

Activities that are encouraged
  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Moderate-level aerobics
  • Stationary cycling
Activities that are discouraged

    Sports with increased risk for falling/trauma
  • Skiing
  • Horse riding
  • Gymnastics
  • Skating
  • Weight lifting
  • Scuba diving
  • Gliding
  • Intensive racquet sports
   Contact sports with elevated risk for abdominal trauma
  • Football
  • Hockey
  • Soccer
  • Boxing
  • Wrestling

Recommended exercises and their benefits
1.   Swimming
It is the safest exercise for pregnant women that helps in maintaining the body toned without adding weight and stress to the joints. It is a good cardiovascular exercise involving muscle groups of legs and arms.
2.   Walking
Walking is considered as one of the best cardiovascular exercise for the expectant. It is safe throughout the entire pregnancy period. Walking should be started slowly and followed by stretching.
3.   Yoga
The slow and comfortable movements of yoga are ideal during pregnancy. Regular practicing of breathing exercises prevents breathing difficulty during the last three months of pregnancy and helps in better management of pain during delivery.
3.   Squatting exercise
Sit in a squat position keeping your back straight with your forearms against your inner thighs. Part the legs as much possible. This is ideal to prepare for a natural childbirth.

4.   Sitting exercise
Sit on the floor with the back straight and legs crossed. Press both knees gently towards the floor using the elbows. The exercise aids in  strengthening the thigh muscles and improving the flexibility of pelvic muscles for easy delivery.

5.   Calf raise exercise
Stand straight facing a wall with feet apart. Move the body slightly forward, rest the hands on the wall and slowly rise up on toes. Stretch back and return to normal position. This helps in preventing muscle cramps during pregnancy.

6.   Kegel exercise/Pelvic floor muscle exercise
Performing Kegel exercise regularly eases vaginal childbirth. Toning the pelvic floor muscles through this exercise also reduces the risk of developing  bladder leaks and piles after delivery.

It is also recommended post-pregnancy to promote healing of vaginal stitches . The main advantage of this exercise is that it can be done at anytime, any place, and in any position. It is performed by contracting the vaginal, urethral and anal muscles as if trying to withhold urination or defecation for 5-10 seconds. The exercise can be repeated 10-20 times, thrice a day.

Measures to prevent back pain during pregnancy

1.     Performing back strengthening exercises
I.    Back muscle exercise (Cat & camel exercise)
Support your body with hands and knees like a crawling position. While inhaling, lift the head up, arching the back. While exhaling, lower the head and return to initial position.

The cat-camel exrecise

II.    Back and hip exercise (Bridging exercise)
Lie flat on the back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Push the buttocks and back  slightly above the ground and  gently lower it.

2.    Maintaining a correct posture
a)    Standing position
The correct posture while standing should be legs straight and parallel to each other. The body weight should be evenly distributed to both the legs.
b)    Sitting position
The seat should be comfortable. Sit up straight and then lean backwards lightly so that the back touches the chair. Place a small pillow to support the neck and back. Small foot rest may be used to support.
c)    Sleeping position
Sleeping on the back should be avoided especially during the last months of pregnancy. Sleeping on the side, particularly on the left is recommended.
d)    Getting up from bed
Gently move to the bedside and rise up to a sitting position using the arms. Place the legs over the side of the bed and stand up.
3.    Wearing comfortable foot wear
Wear comfortable shoes that have minimal height to avoid back pain due to muscle tension while trying to balance.

“Only a healthy mother will get a healthy baby. Always be healthy during pregnancy.”
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