Exercise & Pregnancy: What’s Safe?

Are you expecting and a bit of a fitness fanatic? Not sure how much is too much with a bun in the oven? BlackDoctor.org recently caught up with Dr. Jamil Abdur-Rahman of Twin Doctors TV, who answered some of the most common questions about pregnancy and exercise.

BDO: What are the worst exercises you can do while pregnant? Why?

Dr. Jamil: High impact exercise should be avoided during pregnancy. Heavy lifting should also be avoided. We also advise that pregnant women avoid exercise/physical activity that increases their risk for abdominal trauma (e.g., martial arts, water skiing, gymnastics, horseback riding, etc.) to reduce the risk of injury to the uterus. While the uterus is protected by the pelvic bones during the first 12-14 weeks of pregnancy, once a woman is 14+ weeks pregnant, her uterus is not protected by the pelvis and is therefore more vulnerable to traumatic injury should there be any abdominal trauma.

We also advise against doing sit ups and planks while pregnant. This is because most pregnant women are at increased risk for a condition called diastasis recti. Diastasis recti is when the rectus muscles (the two strap-like “turtle shell muscles” or the “six pack” muscles along the front of the abdomen) separate in the midline as the uterus gets larger causing them to split. Any exercise that requires a pregnant woman to increase her intra-abdominal pressure or to place strain on the midline that causes the belly to bulge outwards is very likely to make distatsis recti worse.

BDO: What are the best exercises you can do while pregnant (and why)?

Dr. Jamil: Typically, I advise that pregnant patients stick to low impact aerobic exercise instead of high impact exercise and/or heavy lifting. Firstly, when pregnant women engage in regular aerobic exercise research has revealed that they have a lower risk of gestational diabetes, are happier (as they release more “feel good” neurotransmitters), sleep better, have less constipation, shorter labors on average and quicker postpartum recoveries. Low impact aerobic exercise (e.g., a brisk walk/very light jog, swimming, yoga, exercise bike, elliptical, etc.) is the best type of exercise for pregnant women because it helps to keep the heart rate up and the circulation optimal (which helps to eliminate a lot of the swelling that pregnant women suffer) but it is not traumatic on the joints.

This is key, because pregnant women release lots of a hormone called relaxin. Relaxin is important in that it causes the joints throughout the body to become quite lax or “relaxed.” This is necessary because, as a pregnancy progresses, the joints in the pelvis need to relax to allow the pelvis to stretch and expand to accommodate the enlarging baby and enlarging uterus. Additionally, the pelvis needs to be able to expand and mold so that the baby can navigate the pelvis during labor and delivery. Unfortunately, relaxin affects all the body’s joints. With excessively lax joints pregnant women are at greater risk for musculoskeletal injury during exercise. They therefore should avoid any exercise that isn’t low impact or that requires heavy lifting as that puts them at increased risk for injury.