Getting Fit Before Pregnancy
- Benefits of physical activity
- Know your body
- Kinds of physical activity
- Amount of physical activity
- Special challenges
- Talk to your health care provider
- Physical activity tips
- Sneak in mini-workouts whenever you can
- Stay safe while active
If you’re thinking about pregnancy, or if you’re just interested in leading a healthier lifestyle, it’s important to include physical activity in your daily routine.
Many women know that regular physically activity is very important for keeping good health and maintaining a healthy weight. Now, more research is showing that the healthier a woman is before pregnancy, the better her chances are to have a healthy baby someday.
For example, a woman who is at a healthy weight before pregnancy is less likely to have serious complications during pregnancy, like high blood pressure or diabetes, or during childbirth. Her baby is also less likely to be born preterm, have birth defects, or face childhood obesity, which is a growing problem in the United States.
Benefits of Physical Activity
Physical activity is any form of exercise or movement of the body that uses energy. Having an active lifestyle can help all women be healthy. Regular physical activity can lower your risk of:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Breast or colon cancer
- Type 2 diabetes (often related to being overweight)
- Osteoarthritis (most common form of arthritis)
- Osteoporosis (weakens bones and affects many women)
Physical activity can also:
- Improve a person’s mood
- Reduce feelings of mild or moderate depression
- Help with managing stress
- Help with managing weight
- Help with quitting smoking
- Help with sleeping better
- Increase energy throughout the day
Know Your Body
Physical activity, along with a well-balanced diet, can also help an overweight person to lose weight. To find out if you are overweight, you’ll need to know your height and weight. You then can calculate your body mass index (BMI). BMI helps to determine if your weight is appropriate for your height.
Not only is lowering your body fat important to your health, but it also matters where you carry the fat on your body. Women with a “pear” shape tend to store fat in their hips and buttocks. Women with an “apple” shape tend to store fat around their waists.
Women with an “apple” shape are more likely to develop health problems related to being overweight than women with a “pear” shape. For women, a waist size of more than 35 inches increases the risk of heart disease.
Kinds of Physical Activity
Aerobic activities: There are two kinds of aerobic activities: moderate and vigorous. Moderate activities increase your heart rate, but you can continue doing them while carrying on a conversation with little trouble. Moderate activities include:
- Walking briskly
- Biking slowly or on a flat surface
- Doing water aerobics
- Dancing (ballroom or line)
- Playing sports in which you catch and throw a ball (baseball, softball, volleyball)
Vigorous activities also increase your heart rate, but it’s harder to carry on a conversation while doing them because you’re breathing heavier. Vigorous activities include:
- Jogging or running
- Biking faster than 10 miles per hour or uphill
- Fast swimming or lap swimming
- Aerobic or fast dancing
- Sports with a lot of running (basketball, hockey, soccer)
Strength-training activities: Strength-training activities help build muscles by improving their strength and ability. These activities include:
- Weight lifting
- Working with weight machines
- Working with resistance bands (giant rubber bands made especially for exercising)
Stretching activities: To improve flexibility and movement in your everyday life, stretching can be a big help. Moving more freely makes it easier to reach down and tie your shoes or look over your shoulder when driving your car in reverse.
Stretch after your muscles are warmed up (for example, after strength training). Stretching your muscles before they are warmed up may cause injury. Stretching activities include:
- Basic body stretches (reaching up above your head or reaching down to touch your toes)
Amount of Physical Activity
Aerobics: In 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services updated its guidelines for physical activity. It recommends that all adults get at least 2 ½ hours each week of aerobic physical activity. This activity should be at least moderately intense.
You can break up the 2 ½ hours up however you like. But it’s best if you do this type of activity for at least 10 minutes at a time.
For example, you can do 30 minutes of moderate physical activity 5 or more days a week. Another option is to do 50 minutes of moderate activity on 3 or more days a week.
You can also replace some or all of your moderate activity with vigorous activity. In general, 15 minutes of vigorous activity provides the same benefits as 30 minutes of moderate activity. So vigorous activity gets you similar health benefits in half the time that moderate activities take.
Strengthening: In addition, all adults should do strengthening activities at least 2 days a week. You can do these exercises on the days between your aerobic workouts. Focus on strengthening the muscles in your legs, hips, back, chest, stomach, shoulders and arms.
In each strength-training session, aim for 8 to 10 different activities that will work out the different muscle groups in your body. Repeat exercises for each muscle group 8-12 times per session.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get the physical activity you need. For aerobic activity, take a walk or jog around your neighborhood. If you need to be indoors because of weather conditions or safety concerns, try exercising to a workout video. You can also contact your local recreation center or house of worship to see if they have indoor activity programs that you can join.
For strength training, try using things around the house. Homemade weights, like plastic soft-drink bottles filled with water or sand, or a couple of soup cans, can help you strengthen your muscles. You can also use your own body weight by doing activities such as push-ups, pull-ups or sit-ups.
If you’ve never been active or haven’t been in a long time, it’s important to start slowly. Begin your physical activity program with short sessions of 5 to 10 minutes and build up to your goal.
If you’re a larger woman, don’t be afraid to get started. You may face special challenges in trying to be physically active, but you can work hard to overcome them. You may not be able to bend or move in the same way as others. You may even feel a little self-conscious. But don’t give up. Try doing activities such as swimming or exercising while seated. They put less stress on your joints because your legs are not supporting the whole weight of your body. Ask your health provider for help in coming up with a physical activity plan that is right for you.
If you have a disability, it may be harder to stay active, but don’t let that stop you. In most cases, people with disabilities can improve their flexibility, mobility and coordination by becoming physically active. Being active can help you stay independent. It can help prevent illnesses, such as heart disease, that can make it hard for you to care for yourself. Work with your health provider to develop a physical activity plan that is right for you.
- Are pregnant
- Have heart disease or are at high risk of developing this illness
- Have diabetes or are at high risk for this disease
- Are obese (BMI of 30 or greater)
- Have an injury or disability
- Have a bleeding or detached retina
- Had recent eye surgery or laser treatment on your eye
- Had recent hip surgery
- Had a stroke or are at high risk of developing this condition
- Pick activities that you like to do.
- Mix it up. Try different activities so you don’t get bored or lose motivation.
- Spread aerobic activity out over at least 3 days a week.
- Team up with your partner or a friend to help keep you motivated.
- Track your time and progress to help you stay on course.
- Once you’ve gotten into a groove, replace some moderate aerobic activities with vigorous activities. Try jogging for 15 minutes instead of walking for 30 minutes.
- If you have kids, make time to play with them outside.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Park your car further away from the office and walk. Get off the bus or train a couple of stops earlier and walk.
- Go dancing with your partner or friends.
- If you’re going on vacation, take a walking tour or do your site-seeing on foot.
- Warm up before doing any activity. Try jogging in place for a few minutes to loosen muscles.
- Go at your own pace. Start slowly and work your way up to longer and more challenging workouts.
- Learn about the types and amounts of activity that are appropriate for your fitness level.
- Use the right safety gear and sports equipment.
- Choose a safe place to do your activity.
- Stop physical activity if you feel faint, dizzy, nauseous, pain in your chest or have trouble breathing. Talk to a health care provider to make sure you’re in good health.