Running and walking are excellent modes of exercise when you are pregnant. Both will benefit you and your baby and lower your risk for some adverse pregnancy outcomes, like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. Like any exercise, running and walking are not without risks. When you are pregnant a lot of changes happen in your body that will impact your ability to exercise. Thankfully there are some simple tips and guidelines to make sure your workout is pregnancy safe.
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The Benefits of Exercise
What if there was a drug that would make you healthier, help you sleep better, live longer, and it had no side effects. You would take it right? Yes, of course, and I would too. There is, and you don’t even have to go to a doctor for a prescription, or pick it up at a pharmacy. It’s free and anyone can take it. This magical drug I am talking about is exercise. In this episode I am specifically talking about running and walking during pregnancy. These things are free, just about anyone can do it, and the benefits are amazing.
Running and Walking During Pregnancy
The benefits of walking are that you burn calories, your strengthen your heart, lower your blood sugar, improve your immune system, increase your energy, improve your mood, increase your longevity so you live longer, and it can even help your creativity and give you some space to think.
A review on walking during pregnancy states that only 14-23% of pregnant mothers are meeting recommended levels of physical activity during their pregnancy. Physical activity tended to increase from the first through the second trimester and decrease in the third. This makes sense because in the first trimester you may be dealing with morning sickness and fatigue which can make it extra challenging to lace up your shoes and go for a walk or a run. The second trimester is usually the one where you will feel the best. In the third trimester fatigue tends to kick in again and your growing belly makes exercising a bit more challenging.
There is evidence that walking during pregnancy decreases the risk for gestational diabetes, and glucose levels have been found to be 4%–21% lower after a 25- to 40-min low-intensity walk. Walking is also associated with a 33% decrease risk for preeclampsia. Another benefit is that walking is associated with a 29-44% decrease in excess weight gain during pregnancy. The distance and time walked had an effect on the decrease in risk of weight gain. Plus, there is some evidence it can also lead to a healthier birth weight for your baby and reduce the risk of preterm birth. In mid- to late pregnancy you want to be shooting for 10,000 steps per day to help you gain a healthy amount of weight when you are pregnant.
Running has all of the same benefits as walking, and you burn more calories. The downside is that running also has a higher risk for injury and can be harder on your joints. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists if you are healthy and your pregnancy is normal, it is safe to continue or start regular physical activity. Physical activity does not increase your risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, or early delivery. However, it is important to discuss exercise with your obstetrician or other member of your health care team during your early prenatal visits. If your health care professional gives you the OK to exercise, you can discuss what activities you can do safely. As always, it is great to have an open dialogue with your doctor or midwife because then you can get their feedback in relation to any particulars of your pregnancy.
Changes During Pregnancy and How that Affects Your Workouts
Let’s talk about some things that you should be aware of during pregnancy that can affect exercise and the potential risks.
Your growing belly can disrupt your center of gravity. This puts you at a greater risk for falling if you lose your balance. With walking and running this isn’t likely to be an issue, perhaps if you are on trails where you have to watch out for rocks or steep hills. Just be aware that your center of gravity can be off from what you are used to and you are more prone to losing your balance.
The hormone relaxin kicks in during pregnancy, this is great for making your ligaments and joints looser for birth, but it can also put you at a higher risk for injury. One area this can really affect is your feet. As your ligaments loosen this can contribute to your arch collapsing, which can make your feet go up a shoe size, contribute to bunions, and a whole host of problems. This is one of the reasons I wore insoles during my pregnancy, and that I still wear them now. I want some additional arch support to prevent these issues from happening.
As you get further into your pregnancy and your belly grows it is going to push all of your other organs up, which can decrease your lung capacity. This can make you short of breath, which can definitely affect running, and potentially walking if you are walking at a brisk pace. This isn’t a reason to avoid cardio, running, or walking, just something to be aware of. Your oxygen levels affect your baby’s oxygen levels. If you do find yourself winded you may need to slow your roll, take a break, or cut your run or walk short.
Another change during pregnancy that can affect your exercise is that your blood volume increases 50%. This is needed to support you’re your growing baby and your placenta, but it does make your heart work harder to pump that extra blood. Your heart rate tends to be higher during pregnancy, by 10-20 beats per minute. If you monitor your heartrate when you workout keep this in mind. There isn’t a magic number or limit that you should aim to keep your heartrate under.
Your breasts may be tender, especially early on, and they will increase in size. Your sensitive and growing breasts means you may need extra support, especially if you are running. Make sure you are wearing a supportive sports bra and at some point during your pregnancy you may need to go up a size if your current sports bras are too tight or uncomfortable.
Your belly increasing in size can also be uncomfortable, especially if you are running. You can wear a support band if you think having some additional support would be helpful. You want support, but you are not looking for a corset, or something that will be really constricting.
Gaining weight is going to put additional strain on your joints. Make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes, I also recommend insoles which are going to give you additional arch support and help take care of your feet.
One study of nearly 1,300 participants included expecting mothers who participated in running groups across the U.S. It is important to know that these were people who had a running practice prior to becoming pregnant. The participants were broken into two groups, those who continued to run during their pregnancy and those who did not. They found no difference in gestational age at delivery, meaning running did not contribute to premature delivery. There was also no statistical significance in baby’s weight at birth. This was independent of the stage or trimester of pregnancy and the distances participants ran. This is great news for runners, because in the past it was thought that running would affect preterm birth rates and your baby’s weight at birth.
There is a difference between someone who is an experienced runner and someone who isn’t. If your body is accustomed to running, that will be easier for you during pregnancy than for someone who never runs.
Risks and Warning Signs
There are some warning signs to watch out for that are indications that you need to chill out on the exercises you are doing. Most of these are really obvious like bleeding from your vagina, regular and painful contractions of your uterus, and fluid gushing or leaking from your vagina. Some other signs to watch out for are if you feel dizzy or faint, shortness of breath before starting exercise, chest pain, headache, muscle weakness, and calf pain or swelling. These are signs you should cut your workout short and bring up your symptoms with your doctor or midwife. Don’t just push through these issues to get your workout in.
It is so crucial to stay hydrated, especially if you are working out. Some signs of dehydration are dizziness, a racing or pounding heart, and urinating only small amounts or having urine that is dark yellow. When you are pregnant you likely have to go pee a lot. This is especially true later on when your uterus and baby are putting pressure on your bladder.
It can be a little annoying that you are supposed to drink more water, which makes you have to go to the bathroom even more often. The tradeoff of ensuring your body and your baby are properly hydrated is worth it. Your urine should be pale yellow to clear. After taking a prenatal vitamin it may be a brighter yellow. This is mostly due to riboflavin, which is vitamin B2. It’s normal and nothing to worry about. Bright yellow is okay, but it should not be a dark yellow.
Another thing to watch out for, especially during the summer is heat exhaustion and hyperthermia. You want to make sure you are not over heating. Wear loose fitting, cool clothing. If you are running or walking and you live in a hot climate, shoot for early morning or evening when the outside temps are cooler. If it is really hot you can hit a treadmill indoors or even find an indoor mall to go for a walk in. There is an episode on the podcast with more in depth information on heat exposure during pregnancy.
Paying attention to your body and how you feel is really the key to keeping your workouts, runs, or walks within safe limits. It is safe to exercise during pregnancy and if your body is too far outside its comfort zone and you are feeling especially fatigued, overly winded, or exhausted, slow down. It is great to keep up, or start, an exercise routine or practice when you are expecting a baby, but it is also important to take it easy when you need to. Pushing yourself too far puts you at a higher risk for injury and other risks. Listen to your body and if you feel like you may be over doing it you probably are.
Tips for a safe walk, run, or workout
Don’t start off on a sprint or a strenuous exercise. You want to warm up first. This can actually help prevent injuries. A warm up will gradually increase your heart rate, increase blood flow to your muscles, and loosen up your joints. This is a must do when you are pregnant, because your ligaments are looser and your muscles are under extra strain. This should be about 5-10 minutes.
After your work out it is tempting to head straight to the shower. Before you do that it is a good idea to cool down. This involves slowing down your workout for the last five to ten minutes. If you go for a run, walk for five to ten minutes at the end. If you are on a walk, take it extra easy the last 5 minutes.
Stretching is another way to take care of your muscles. There is some controversy about stretching preventing injuries but it will improve your flexibility and range of motion. Plus, stretching will reduce muscle soreness. It is best to do this after your warm up, when your muscles aren’t cold, and after your cool down. Since your ligaments tend to be looser during pregnancy thanks to relaxin, take it easy on the stretching. If it hurts, scale it back. Stretching should feel good, it should not be painful.
A study that looked at 110 women who were long distance runners prior to becoming pregnant. On average the participants reduced the intensity of their running during their pregnancy. This included cutting their intensity by half. This really goes to show that even competitive runners understand that their running practice may need to slow down to accommodate the changes in your body during pregnancy. Even with decreasing the intensity, they did maintain running while pregnant. Of all of the women in this study 3.9% sustained an injury during their pregnancy.
We talked about some of the precautions you should take, like warming up, stretching, being cautious about your balance and center of gravity. Injury is a potential risk, but the majority of women never got injured. Plus, keep in mind these were competitive long distance runners, not people going for a casual jog around their neighborhood.
The only thing you really need for running or walking is comfortable clothing and shoes. Clothing should be loose fitting and comfortable for the temperature of the climate you are in. Shoes should be comfortable and have good arch support.
I am a big fan of the Mommy Steps insoles because when I was pregnant I wanted extra arch support to protect my feet from lasting problems. This includes issues like your arch collapsing, which can actually make your feet go up a shoe size. I have some great running shoes that are really comfortable, but they are even better with these insoles. In hind sight, I probably could have gone with a less expensive pair of shoes with the Mommy Steps insoles in them.
I have never been a fan of lugging water on a run but I do take water with me when I walk. It is a great time to rehydrate. I love my Hydroflask which is a double walled bottle that keeps liquids cold for 24 hours.
Another thing you may want is an app on your phone for tracking your distance, pace, and time. There are a lot of free ones available in the Apple app store and the Google Play store. They will store your exercises so you can go back and see your progress and track your activity over time. Even an iPhone will track activity fairly well with the Health app, which comes pre-installed. If you are shooting for the suggested 10,000 steps per day, apps are an excellent way to track that.
Strollers for Running and Walking
If you are a runner or walk often and you will be continuing that after your baby arrives you should consider a stroller that is good for that. Some strollers will be more challenging to run or walk with than others. I got a Bob stroller before my son was born (thanks to a very generous person who bought it off my baby registry) and I love it. It is a big stroller, and it isn’t cheap, but it is amazing for running and walking. It is worth the price and we use it almost daily with our second kid and it still has a lot of life in it. Taking your little one out for a walk gets them some fresh air and exposes them to new sights, smells, and sounds. Plus, it gets you outside and moving.
Making the Most Out of Your Workouts
Going for a run or walk doesn’t have to be hard work. You can meet up with a friend for a walk, schedule a call to catch up with someone who doesn’t leave in your city, or enjoy getting outdoors with your dog. We think of running or walking as something you do along the beach or in a park, but you can also do this around your neighborhood or even go for a stroll and do some window shopping in town. Go for a walk with your partner, this is such a great time to reconnect and talk about your plans for your birth or what life will look like with a new baby. You can also listen to podcasts or enjoy some music or even standup comedy with headphones in. Your options are limitless for making a walk or run entertaining and productive.
If you have any questions about exercising, walking, or running during your pregnancy please talk to your doctor or midwife. They are an excellent resource for assisting you in finding safe exercises specifically for your pregnancy.
Thank you to the amazing companies that have supported this episode.
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