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Exercising for Two

Steps for a Healthy, Active Pregnancy

Amanda K. Weiss Kelly, MD; with Patricia D. Mees

Practice Essentials Series Editors:
Kimberly G. Harmon, MD; Aaron Rubin, MD


Staying healthy is important at any stage of life, but especially while you are pregnant. You want to give your baby the best possible start by eating right, not smoking, getting enough rest, and exercising.

Q. Is it safe to exercise while I am pregnant?

A. Yes, as long as you do not have any medical condition that would make exercise risky for you or your baby. Your doctor will determine if you are healthy enough to exercise and help you choose the exercises that are right for you. Be sure to follow all your doctor's instructions carefully.

If you are already active, you may need to set a slower pace. You can maintain your fitness level, but pregnancy is not a good time for heavy training or improving performance. Your doctor can help you set reasonable limits.

Q. I am not used to exercising. When should I start?

A. Many women find that the second trimester is a good time to begin. The nausea and vomiting of the first trimester have eased, and you are still able to move easily. Exercise may help reduce excessive weight gain, which means less stress on your lower back, knees, and ankles in the third trimester.

Q. What kind of exercises can I do?

A. Walking, swimming or pool exercises, low-impact aerobics, and yoga for pregnancy are all good choices. After the fourth month, avoid exercising while lying flat on your back. Be careful not to overstretch! Biking may be done on a stationary bicycle. Skiing, scuba diving, and exercises that have a high risk of falling or require sudden changes in direction should be avoided. Also, avoid working out in hot, humid environments, especially during the first 3 months. Doing a variety of exercises will help avoid boredom.

Q. How much should I exercise?

A. Try starting with about 15 minutes per session, three times per week, at a pace that increases your heartbeat. Your doctor can show you how to check your pulse and tell you what your safe heart rate should be. You can move at a slower pace or stop and rest if you need to. You should be able to carry on a conversation while you are working out and not feel excessively short of breath at any time. Work up to 30 minutes per session, four times a week.

Q. What else do I need to know?

A. A baby needs about 300 calories per day to develop normally. Your doctor can help you figure out the right amount of food to eat. Remember to drink enough fluids, including water, limit caffeine, and avoid alcohol intake. Contact your doctor right away if you have:

  • Significant shortness of breath;
  • Vaginal bleeding, amniotic fluid leakage, or other unusual discharge;
  • Dizziness or headache;
  • Pain in the chest, stomach, or hip; or
  • Decreased fetal movement during exercise.

Exercise is just one part of a healthy lifestyle. Pregnancy is a great time to develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime for you and your baby.

Remember: This information is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. Before starting an exercise program, consult a physician.

Dr Kelly is a family physician at Case Western Reserve University and Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cincinnati. Ms Mees is an assistant editor at THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE.

Disclosure information: Dr Kelly discloses no significant relationship with any manufacturer of any commercial product mentioned in this article. No drug is mentioned in this article for an unlabeled use.

© 2005, by the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Permission to photocopy is granted for educational purposes.

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