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Exercises during Pregnancy - Introduction
 
     Regular exercise builds bones and muscles, gives you energy, and keeps you healthy. It is just as important when you are pregnant. You may often feel tired and you gain weight. Exercise helps you look and feel better during a time when your body is undergoing changes.

     Regular activity also helps keep you fit and may improve your ability to cope with the pain of labour. This will make it easier for you to get back in shape after the baby is born. You should not, however, exercise to lose weight while you are pregnant.
 
Benefits of Exercise
 
     Becoming active and exercising on most, if not all, days of the week can benefit your health in many ways:
     At a time when you wonder if this strange body can be yours exercise can increase you sense of control and boost your energy levels.
     Exercises make you feel better by releasing endorphins (naturally occurring chemicals in the brain). Endorphins are also called "feel good hormone".
     Exercises reduce constipation by accelerating movements in the intestine.
     It relieves backaches and improves posture by strengthening and toning muscles at the back, butt and thighs.
     Prevents wear and tear of the joints (which generally become loosened during pregnancy due to hormonal changes) by activating the lubricating synovial fluid in the joints.
     Helps to sleep better by relieving stress and anxiety.
     Exercises increase the blood flow to the skin thereby making it glow.
     Most importantly strong muscles and a fit heart can greatly ease labor and delivery.
     Regular exercises during pregnancy helps in regaining pre pregnancy state quickly after delivery.
 
Changes in Your Body
 
     Pregnancy causes many changes in your body. Some of these changes will affect your ability to exercise.
 
Joints
     Hormonal changes makes the ligaments more relaxed and joints more mobile and more at risk of injury. Avoid jerky, bouncy, or high-impact motions that can increase your risk of injury.
 
Balance
     The weight gain and the pregnant uterus shift your centre of gravity. This can put additional stress on the muscles of the pelvis and lower back. This can make you less stable, cause back pain, and make you more likely to lose your balance and fall, especially in later pregnancy.
 
Heart Rate
     The extra weight you are carrying will make your body work harder than before you were pregnant. Exercise increases the flow of oxygen and blood to the muscles being worked and away from other parts of your body. So, it's important not to overdo it. If you are unable to talk normally while exercising, your activity is too strenuous.
 
Getting Started
 
     Before beginning your exercise program, talk with your doctor to make sure you do not have any health conditions that may limit your activity. Ask about any specific exercises or sports that interest you. Your doctor can offer advice about what type of fitness routine is best for you.

Women with one of the following conditions may be advised not to exercise during pregnancy:
     Pregnancy-induced hypertension
     Symptoms or history of preterm labour (early contractions)
     Vaginal bleeding
     Premature rupture of membranes
 
Choosing Safe Exercises
     Most forms of exercise are safe during pregnancy. But, some types of exercise involve positions and movements that may be uncomfortable, tiring, or harmful for pregnant women. Walking is considered the best exercise for anyone. Brisk walking gives a good total body workout and is easy on the joints and muscles. Other good activities for pregnant women include swimming and stationary biking.
 
Your Routine
     Exercise during pregnancy is most practical during the first 24 weeks. During the last 3 months, it can be difficult to do many exercises that once seemed easy. This is normal.
     If it has been some time since you've exercised, it is a good idea to start slowly. Begin with as little as 5 minutes a day and add 5 more minutes a week until you can stay active for 30 minutes a day.

     Always begin each exercise session with a warm-up period for 5-10 minutes. After exercising, cool down by slowly reducing your activity. This allows your heart rate to return to normal levels.
 
Things to Watch
 
     The changes your body is going through can make certain positions and activities risky for you and your baby. While exercising try to avoid activities that call for jumping, jarring motions or quick changes in direction that may strain your joints and cause injury.

When you exercise, follow these general guidelines for a safe and healthy exercise program:
     In the later weeks of pregnancy, avoid doing any exercises on your back.
     Avoid brisk exercise in hot, humid weather or when you are sick with a fever.
     Wear comfortable clothing that will help you to remain cool.
     Wear a bra that fits well and gives lots of support to help protect your breasts.
     Drink plenty of water to help keep you from overheating and dehydrating.
     Make sure you consume the extra 300 calories a day you need during pregnancy.

Be aware of the warning signs that you may be exercising too strenuously. If you notice any of these symptoms, stop exercising and call your doctor.
     Pain
     Vaginal bleeding
     Dizziness or feeling faint
     Increased shortness of breath
     Rapid heartbeat
     Difficulty walking
     Uterine contractions and chest pain
     Fluid leaking from the vagina
 
After the Baby's Born
 
     Having a baby and taking care of a newborn is hard work. It will take a while to regain your strength after the strain of pregnancy and birth. Taking care of yourself physically and allowing your body time to recover is important. If you had a caesarean delivery, a difficult birth, or complications, your recovery time may be longer. Check with your doctor before starting or resuming an exercise program.

     Walking is a good way to get back into exercising. Brisk walks several times a week will prepare you for more strenuous exercise when you feel up to it. Walking has the added advantage of getting both you and the baby out of the house for exercise and fresh air. As you feel stronger, consider more vigorous exercise.

     You will want to pick an exercise program that meets your own needs. There are also special postpartum exercise classes that you can join.
 
Finally...
 
     Exercise during pregnancy can help prepare you for labor and childbirth. Exercising afterward can help get you back in shape.