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Exercise Is Essential During Pregnancy: Try Walking

Just because you're pregnant doesn't mean you need to abandon a fitness program; in fact, exercise is an essential part of good health during pregnancy. However, you'll need to alter your program to fit your changing needs and abilities.

There have been many misconceptions as to what pregnant women should or should not do concerning physical fitness. For many years, pregnant women were treated as invalids and advised to do next to nothing. Now, more and more research indicates exercise during pregnancy is very important and can help in preparation for labor and birth.

For example, in "What to Expect When You're Expecting," by Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi E. Murkoff and Sandee E. Hathaway, B.S.N., the authors note that aerobic exercise:

 improves circulation (enhancing the transport of oxygen and nutrients to the fetus while decreasing the risk of varicose veins, hemorrhoids and fluid retention);

 increases muscle tone and strength (often preventing or relieving backache and constipation, making it easier to carry the extra weight of pregnancy and facilitating delivery);

 builds endurance (making you better able to cope with a lengthy labor);

 may help control blood sugar;

 burns calories (allowing you to eat more of the good food you and your baby need without gaining excessive weight, and promising a better postpartum figure);

 lessens fatigue and promotes good sleep;

 imparts a feeling of well-being and confidence;

 and in general heightens your ability to cope with the physical and emotional challenges of childbearing.

The recent Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health also addressed the benefits of exercise, noting it can relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve mood, which is a great help during pregnancy when emotions can often be extreme.

One of the safest and easiest ways to exercise during pregnancy is walking, according to Utah-based ICON Health & Fitness, which manufactures the HealthRider line of exercise products. Walking is good exercise because it doesn't jar the body — an important consideration because hormonal changes during pregnancy loosen the joints and cause them to be more susceptible to injury, the company noted.

For the average pregnant woman, a brisk walk at least three times a week is an adequate exercise program, it indicated. If the pregnant woman is a well-trained, experienced athlete, she may be able to jog up to two miles a day, but no more, the company stressed. In any case, expectant mothers should consult their physicians, who can help them devise an acceptable and beneficial prenatal exercise program. 

By engaging in a regular exercise routine, expectant mothers not only can improve their health during pregnancy, but can develop healthy habits that will continue long after the baby arrives.

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