Prenatal Exercise - Heart Healthy Tips For Safe Exercise While Pregnant

Everyone knows the benefits of exercise. Pregnancy is a time when exercise is key, not only for mom but for the benefit of babe too!  An exercise physiologist named Linda May looked at the benefits of exercise on the fetuses of 66 pregnant women.  Her and her partners collected non-invasive fetal heart measurements at 28, 32 and 36 weeks of gestation.  The exercise group participated in moderate to vigorous exercise at least 3 times a week while the other group did not exercise.  The team noticed changes in heart rate response in the fetuses of the exercising moms starting at 32 weeks and by 36 weeks they noticed lower heart rates and increased heart rate variability (an indicator of a heart functioning more efficiently and a measure typically associated with exercisers). 

Exercise is better for mom and better for babe, but which exercises are safest and the best choice to get mamas movin’ when pregnant, while also being pelvic floor friendly?

Here are The Fitness Doula’s Top Tips for Heart Healthy Exercise While Pregnant.

Walking Walking, especially a route that has some hills, is one of my favourite exercises for pregnancy.  It is great for cardio, great for your glutes and legs (which we want to prepare for upright positions in labour) and great for your pelvic floor!  I recommend walking everyday for 30 minutes (which means you will realistically do it 3-4x which is right in line with the PARMED-X for Pregnancy guidelines).  You can pay attention to heart rate, but because heart rate can vary so much in pregnancy, I usually guide women to use a rating of perceived exertion and the “Talk Test:” you should be able to carry on a conversation without becoming out of breath.  Heart rate guidelines are as follows;

  • less than 20 years old – 140 to 155 beats per minute (bpm);
  • 20 to 29 years old – 135 to 150 bpm; and
  • 30 to 39 years old – 130 to 145 bpm

Ratings of perceived exertion guidelines are based on how hard you feel you are working based on a scale.  You can check the accuracy of your heart rate by comparing it to the scale below.   Working in a range of about 12-14 (somewhat hard) is appropriate for most pregnant women.

Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale

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

Always pay close attention to how you feel and stop exercising if you feel

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Fluid leaking from the vagina
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Less fetal movement
  • Contractions

Swimming

The buoyancy offered by a pool can be such a welcome relief to the pregnant body, not to mention the gentle resistance offered by the water, which allows you to get your heart rate up as well!  Swimming is a great low (read ‘no’) impact exercise that involves the whole body. Keep in mind you can also get a great workout in the pool without doing laps.  You can get a great glute and leg workout by standing at the edge of the pool, holding the side and swinging one leg forward and back.  You can add paddles to your hands and, while standing in water between hip and chest height, swing your arms through the water.  Gentle, no impact cardio will benefit your heart, your core and your pelvic floor!

Squatting

Squatting is one of the positions I recommend for labour because it uses gravity and it opens up the pelvic outlet making more room for your baby, therefore facilitating the process of delivery.  During pregnancy you need to build up your strength so that you are able to best use this position during labour.  Squatting daily is ideal and can be done in slow and controlled manner, or a bit more dynamically, which will increase the heart rate.  You can place a ball behind your low back against a wall and slowly ride the ball down the wall.  You can hook a yoga strap around a monkey bar and hold on to the strap with both hands using the resistance to keep you in great form.  Or you can do a free squat with no support.  Pay attention to your form – keep your tailbone untucked, hinge from the hips and ensure your knees do not glide forward over the toes.  Inhale down and exhale up.  Squatting is great for your pelvic floor and it is typically most engaged just before you press back up.  If you can add in a voluntary pelvic floor contraction just before you start to press back up and hold it as you do so, you will be training your pelvic floor AND your heart!

Core Breathing

Core breathing supports a healthy heart because it encourages you to breathe optimally, which in turn means better circulation, and better oxygen delivery to you and your baby. It also promotes a calm, meditative state, which helps reduce stress and anxiety. 

Staying fit and active while pregnant contributes to shorter pushing times in labour, a quicker recovery postpartum and increased confidence overall.  By choosing low or no impact activities that also raise the heart rate, moms will maintain a stronger core while building a happy healthy heart for themselves and their babe.