Exercising While Pregnant: Surprising Benefits, and How To Do It Safely

By Emma Rose | Tuesday 2nd July 2019

Last updated on Tuesday 28th July 2020

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Before now, people were advised to limit exercising while pregnant (Hammer, Perkins, and Parr, 2000). But it can be completely safe and beneficial. This post discusses how to work out safely when pregnant, and the benefits to you and baby.

Exercising While Pregnant: The Stigma

In history, pregnant women were seen as vulnerable. Because of this, they were advised not to exercise. This isn’t the case anymore. Unfortunately, though, there is still a stigma around exercising when pregnant. Many women limit the amount of training they do, and some don’t exercise at all.

Is exercise during pregnancy safe

Most of the time though, pregnant women can exercise more than they might think. Some exercise is totally safe during pregnancy and can be beneficial.

Benefits of Exercising While Pregnant

Many health issues can crop up through pregnancy. Women who exercise have less chance of this occurring.

When exercising, women can be less likely to develop high blood sugar when pregnant. This is called gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). Pregnancy is often linked to an increase in insulin resistance, causing GDM. Working out can help avoid this. (Wang et al., 2017). Research also shows that exercise helps reduce the risk of needing a Caesarean section (Mascio et al., 2016).

As well as this, exercise reduces the imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body. This can lead to cell and tissue damage. This results in improvements in the function of certain cells (Genest et al., 2012). These cells line the interior surface of blood and lymphatic vessels. Through better functioning of these cells, exercise helps lower the chances of high blood pressure in pregnancy.

Exercising while pregnant

Which Exercises Are Safe When Pregnant?

Doctors now recommend that women with healthy pregnancies keep up a fitness regime. The advice states 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise on most, if not all, days of the week, is healthy and beneficial (ACOG Committee Obstetric Practice, January 2002).

This list of ways to stay fit have been studied heavily. All of them are safe (Berghella and Saccone, 2017).

  • Walking
  • Stationary cycling
  • Aerobics
  • Dancing
  • Resistance exercise
  • Stretching exercise
  • Hydrotherapy and water aerobics

Alongside the list above, many other activities are safe while pregnant. These include swimming, jogging, running, yoga and pilates.

Yoga is safe when pregnant

Exercises To Avoid During Pregnancy

On the other hand, many forms of exercise aren’t safe. These include contact sports like boxing, rugby, and ice hockey. Pregnant women should also avoid activities that have a high risk of falling, like horse riding and skiing. Scuba diving is also unsafe in pregnancy. It can cause a fetus to develop decompression sickness (Berghella and Saccone, 2017).

In the third trimester, pregnant women should avoid lying on their backs during exercise. Anything that requires prolonged standing should also be avoided. For many movements that may not be safe or comfortable, there are often alternatives that can be done instead.

Safe Exercise During Pregnancy Summary

When planning your exercise regime, it’s best to start in your first trimester. The ideal duration of a session is between 30 and 60 minutes. To get the benefits of exercising while pregnant, aim for at least 3 times a week. You can safely exercise daily. When it comes to exercise intensity, this should be moderate. Preferably, exercise when someone can supervise you, in case any problems occur. You’re safe to exercise all the way up to the delivery of your baby (Berghella and Saccone, 2017).

Is Exercise Right For Everyone During Pregnancy?

Every person is different when it comes to exercising while pregnant. Before a doctor recommends it, they must assess a woman’s risk level.

Exercising while pregnant

Healthy women are considered low risk, regardless of their previous activity level. However, women who have certain chronic conditions are at high risk. These include cardiovascular, systemic, and respiratory issues. (Bredin et al., 2013). It’s important to note that some women are actually advised not to exercise. If the following problems occur, exercise could cause harm:

  • Gestational hypertension
  • Preeclampsia
  • Ruptured membrane
  • Incompetent cervix
  • Bleeding in the second or third trimester
  • Placenta previa
  • Premature labour

When to Stop Exercising While Pregnant

Unfortunately, things don’t always go to plan. If you have any of the following signs or symptoms, you must stop exercising immediately.

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Dizziness
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Chest pain
  • Preterm labor
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Leakage of amniotic fluid
  • Dyspnea before physical activity

Competitive Exercise and Pregnancy

These days there are a lot more women competing in sports. High-intensity exercise in pregnancy is a hot topic. Many women want to continue training during their pregnancy.

Athletes during pregnancy

Studies show it can be safe for these women to continue to do so. One study found that, for very active women, continuing to exercise pregnancy increased VO2 max (Kardel, 2005). Other research shows that women who are already active can increase to vigorous intensities (Szymanski and Satin, 2012).


For women who are healthy and have normal pregnancies, many forms of exercise are safe. Exercising while pregnant can have beneficial effects. It reduces glucose levels and lessens the chances of needing a Caesarean section. It also prevents maternal weight gain.

Exercise is not for everyone though. Those with specific health issues are at high risk of harm.

Doctors now advise that active women should maintain their level of exercise. They can increase their level of activity if desired. Physically inactive women, on the other hand, are encouraged to begin exercising.

Exercising while pregnant can be completely safe

It’s a complete myth that exercise is always harmful during pregnancy. Sadly, many women miss out on the many benefits of exercising while pregnant. The idea that it is damaging has been long disproven in a wide variety of research studies. Hopefully, the information that has been provided here can give women more confidence to exercise while pregnant. Let’s eradicate the stigma around working out during pregnancy!

Further Reading

Many opt to exercise at home during pregnancy. If you’ve decided this is for you, check out our post on home workouts! If you don’t currently follow a fitness regime, why not start now? Read up on how to find the perfect workout plan here. To stick to a fitness plan, it’s a good idea to track your progress. Learn about the best fitness and nutrition tracking strategies here.

Emma Rose


Mindset Specialist, BSc (Hons)

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