By Dana SullivanExercising during your pregnancy is one of the best things you can do for yourself--and your baby. Regular exercise (walking or swimming for 30 minutes three or more times a week, for example) will help you control your weight, reduce the risk of some illnesses associated with pregnancy, and may also help you sleep better at night. Add some strength-training to keep your muscles toned and strong, and to help with your posture as your center of gravity shifts along with your growing belly.
The latest research shows that regular exercise is not only smart and safe for pregnant women, but may also enhance their experience. "Many women say that exercise reduces the aches and pains associated with pregnancy, and boosts their energy levels and self-esteem," says prenatal fitness expert Larry A. Wolfe, Ph.D., director of the clinical exercise physiology laboratory at Queen's University, in Ontario, Canada.
Wolfe says that while there's no proof that exercise shortens labor or makes it less painful, or that it will prevent certain complications, many women who have participated in his research have told him that it gave them the stamina they needed to endure labor. Also, that being in shape made recovery from childbirth easier.
Even if you hadn't been exercising before your pregnancy, there's no reason you can't start a mild program now (with your physician's approval, of course). In fact, if there are no complications associated with your pregnancy, your physician will probably recommend it. "Our research suggests that regular exercise may reduce a women's risk of developing two of the most dangerous illnesses associated with pregnancy: gestational diabetes and preeclampsia," says Wolfe.
That's reason enough to ask your physician to recommend a prenatal fitness class. Remember, this isn't a time to train hard; your goal should be to maintain a fitness level you feel good about so you can reap the physical and emotional benefits during your pregnancy, withstand labor, and recover from childbirth more quickly.