Exercise for non-exercisers at every stage
What to Know
- Exercise is an essential component of overall health and can support weight management
- Sample (and simple!) exercises to get you started at home
Exercise is important for all stages of your life including preconception, pregnancy and postpartum. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 30 minutes of exercise per day during pregnancy. The health benefits you’ll receive from this mere 30 minutes per day are extensive. Exercise decreases fatigue, increases muscular and cardiovascular strength and stamina, relieves stress and anxiety, improves mood, augments one’s energy level, supports better focus and also better sleep, and can help maintain or achieve a healthier weight.
Your healthy weight is particularly important during preconception and pregnancy because being too much above or below a healthy weight can lead to health risks for you and your baby (See: Why does my pre-pregnancy weight matter?). Although what – and how much – you eat has a much greater role in what you weight, increased physical activity can support better eating habits and metabolic activity.
While the idea of exercising regularly may sound daunting to some, remember that exercise doesn’t have to mean a formal workout at the gym. Simply incorporating more movement into your daily life will provide extensive benefits and have a huge effect on your short and longer-term health. Make it your goal to move more, and you’ll reap the benefits of exercise without needing special training or even a gym membership.
Stop exercising and call your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Increased shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Uterine contractions
- Decreased fetal movement
- Fluid leaking from the vagina
What to Do
Incorporate more movement and fitness into your daily routine
Take the stairs whenever possible or the long way when you walk to an errand or meeting. Stand up when you can in meetings, on conference calls, even when reading or watching television. If you have a desk job, consider swapping your old desk for a stand-up version – there are many alternatives now on the market to suit any space and budget.
Sitting for too long without standing and moving around has actually been linked with poor health outcomes, such as increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. This type of sedentary lifestyle when we are inactive for many hours per day has been termed the “Sitting Disease.” To help combat this, get up and move around at least once every hour, even just for a few minutes, and use part of your lunch break for walking or climbing some stairs.
Exercise does not have to be formal, grueling, competitive or boring. If you are a self-proclaimed “non-exerciser”, remove that label from your self-identity, and just get moving.
Consider using a pedometer or other fitness tracker
Tracking the number of steps you take each day (the goal is 10,000) can be highly motivational.
Turn exercise into a fun social activity by taking a group class
If you enjoy social events and camaraderie, take a low impact aerobics class, such as Zumba, yoga, pilates or beginner aerobics. Low impact classes typically have lots of other beginner exercisers participating and will be less intimidating to join. Try a few different classes, meet people, make friends and have fun while you’re moving!
Listen to an audio book or podcast while walking
If you’re someone who prefers curling up on the couch and reading a book instead of breaking a sweat, try walking while listening to that book on tape. The audio stimulation will distract you and before you know it you may have walked a couple of miles.
Find workout videos online you can do at home – from dance to yoga, pilates to barre
Many online options exist – often for free! – for 5, 10, and 20 minute workouts that require no more than internet access and the will to get going!
Do strengthening exercises while you watch TV
You don’t have to sacrifice your favorite shows to fit in some exercise – do them together! There are almost no end of variations of strengthening exercises you could do on the floor in front of the TV to tone your muscles and compliment any aerobic exercise, which burns fat. Do note that it’s important to abstain from back-lying exercises in the second and third trimesters. Here are a few to get you going:
- Isometric exercises: Engage/tighten the pelvic floor, abdominal, lower back, and gluteus muscles periodically while sitting, and always when lifting, to help strengthen your core and prevent injury to the lower back. (See Everything I need to know about my pelvic floor muscles and how to strengthen them for specifics).
- Arm and Leg Extensions: Start in an all-fours hands and knees position, then extend your right arm towards the front and left leg towards the back as you inhale. Return to the starting position as you exhale and repeat with your left arm and right leg. Complete 6 sets on each side.
- Bridge pose (don’t do this one during the second and third trimesters): Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, hip width apart, arms down by your side. Take a deep breath in, and then lift your hips up while squeezing your core and gluteal muscles as you exhale. Lower your hips to return to the starting position on the inhale. Continue for a total of 8 up and down repetitions as you breath.
- Pelvic tilts (If you are in the second or third trimester, do this one while standing against a wall): Practicing pelvic tilts will help stretch the lower back muscles that may have tightened after performing the above strengthening exercises. To do this, you can either stand straight with your back against the wall or lie on the floor in the same position as you began in bridge pose. Then draw your belly button towards your spine and gently rock your hips towards your face so that your tailbone lifts – you will feel your lower back will press into the floor or wall.
- Superman (don’t do this one during the second and third trimesters): Lie down on your belly and lift your arms and legs off the floor. Hold this position for 30 – 60 seconds, or as long as you are able, before returning your arms and legs to the floor. Repeat as many times as you can.
- Leg lifts(don’t do this one during the second and third trimesters): Lie down on your back with legs extended. Lift both of your legs about 4 inches off the floor. Hold them up for 30 – 60 seconds, or as long as you are able, before returning them to the floor. Repeat as many times as you can.
- Light weight lifting: Use 3-5 pound weights (or just grab some canned foods from your pantry in place of the weights) for bicep and tricep curls to tone your arms.
- Squats and lunges: Do 10 squats followed by 10 lunges with each leg during the commercial breaks of your favorite show.
“Exercise During Pregnancy FAQs” American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Date accessed 18 July 2018.
Corliss, Julie. “Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature death” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. Date accessed 18 July 2018.