Pregnancy and fitness

Pregnancy induces physiological processes that may impact the health of both woman and unborn baby. It may also make everyday tasks difficult due to reduced mobility. To counter that, it is highly recommended to exercise during pregnancy. (Photo: Envato Elements)
In Jordan, pregnancy was the 14th leading cause of death in women in 2015. Taxing the woman’s body, pregnancy induces physiological processes that may impact the health of both woman and unborn baby. It may also make everyday tasks difficult due to reduced mobility. To counter that, it is highly recommended to exercise during pregnancy. اضافة اعلان

Complications during pregnancy

An expecting mother’s body undergoes changes, and her health may have to suffer. Of the more serious complications, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes are of a greater concern. Preeclampsia is a pregnancy disorder characterized by hypertension (high blood pressure) and signs of damage to other organ systems, especially to the kidneys and liver. 

During pregnancy, new blood vessels are formed to keep up with the high demand by the baby. In preeclampsia, these blood vessels do not develop or function properly, which limits the blood flow. This complication may be fatal to both mother and baby, and may require a preterm birth, which has the potential to be fatal to babies, especially if they have not matured enough.
Gestational diabetes is another common and serious complication that may arise during pregnancy. Similar to other forms of diabetes, it is characterized by high blood glucose levels; it may resolve after delivery, but it may also develop into life-long type 2 diabetes. 

The exact cause is not well understood, but there are many common factors that increase the risk. Much like preeclampsia, if left untreated, gestational diabetes may be fatal to the mother or result in still birth. 

A study conducted in Jordan between 2012 and 2013 found that 1.2 percent of pregnant women suffer from preeclampsia and 1.2 percent from gestational diabetes. The data of this study suggests that both conditions are significant factors associated with preterm births. 

Other, minor, pregnancy complications include excessive weight gain and lower back pain. Due to hormonal changes, pregnant women are also more prone to mental health issues, including stress, depression, and anxiety.

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy

Although exercise may be difficult during pregnancy, it is very important, especially in preventing complications. Several studies found that moderate exercise can reduce the risk of developing serious complications. Moderate exercise has been associated with a 33-35 percent reduction in instances of preeclampsia and a 48 percent reduction in gestational diabetes diagnoses. 

Additionally, pregnant women who perform regular moderate exercise are 4.48 times less likely to need cesarean delivery, which means reduced risks associated with C-sections, such as uterine infections, surgical wound complications, cardiopulmonary and thromboembolic conditions, and longer hospital stays. Some smaller studies have even shown reduced instances and severity of lower back pain and lower limb edema (swelling of the legs and feet).


Before exercising, pregnant women need to get clearance from their OB/GYN doctor, as there are many conditions in which exercises would be contraindicated during pregnancy. Among these, significant heart diseases, present preeclampsia, persistent bleeding, restrictive lung diseases, severe anemia, and being underweight (BMI<12).

For those who have been cleared by the doctor, there are pre- and post-workout practices that should be considered, like always warming up before exercising and cooling down after a workout, avoiding strenuous activity (especially in hot weather), avoiding exercises that have an increased risk for falls, and being sure to drink plenty of fluids to replenish what is lost during the exercise.

Exercises should be moderate in intensity and duration, depending on the fitness level prior to pregnancy. For those who are less physically fit, it is acceptable to begin at 10 minutes a day, but the goal is to reach 30 minutes per day. Those who exercised regularly before getting pregnant may continue on the same regimen as long as the exercises have been cleared by the doctor and comfortable. 

Some days are worse than others, making adherence to a program difficult. If that becomes the case, pregnant women should do as much as possible because any amount of physical activity is better than none.

Exercises during pregnancy

Throughout the duration of pregnancy there are three terms called trimesters. With each trimester exercise may become more difficult, and certain exercises may not be allowed. As a result, it is always important to stay in constant contact with the doctor.

First trimester

The first trimester is the least physically taxing, and therefore, exercises will be relatively more intense. They may include kneeling pushups, squats, and bicep curls.

To perform a kneeling pushup, first begin by laying flat on the floor. Slowly push yourself up with your hands and knees, making sure your knees keep in line behind your hips. Slowly lower your chest by bending your elbows and inhale as you are lowering yourself. Once a couple of inches off the ground, push back up while exhaling. You can start with 6-10 pushups if it is difficult at first, and work your way up to 20-24 repetitions.

To perform a squat, stand up right with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width. Lower yourself as if you are going to sit for five seconds, then stand back up for three seconds. If you like a bit of safety, you can do this exercise in front of a couch. Exhale while squatting and inhale as you stand. Try and complete two sets of 15-20 reps.

To perform a bicep curl, you will need some light weights (2-4 kg). Start by standing or sitting upright with your arms to the side and slowly bend your elbows to bring the weights to your shoulders. Inhale while lowering the weights for five seconds and exhale while raising the weights for three seconds. Try to complete two sets of 10-15 reps.

The purpose of performing these types of exercises is to improve strength. As the pregnancy continues, you will be carrying more weight, and performing these exercises will help with acclimating to the additional weight. 

Second trimester

At this point, focused exercises on strength may still be useful, but consult the doctor because certain exercises such as squats may not be cleared. Lighter exercises such as stretches may be a better alternative. There are many programs and classes, such as yoga and Pilates, that can be tailored to pregnancy. Stretching is important, especially in pregnant women, as it will greatly improve flexibility and may help relieve pain in muscles such as the lower back.

Third trimester

By the third trimester, physical activity will become harder and harder. Many exercises that are too strenuous will not be allowed at this point. Instead, exercise would be shifted to a more holistic approach, specifically cardiovascular activities. 

Exercises such as walking, swimming, and specific stretching programs such as prenatal yoga will be of greater importance. 
Swimming and water exercises tend to be preferred as it is a great form of physical activity, and there is the added benefit of weightlessness. 
Pregnancy at this stage is more delicate so always talk to your OB/GYN for any questions or concerns.

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