On Exercise: A Detailed Look at Your Physical Wellbeing.

Exercise is another of our responsibilities to the self (and thus our baby) throughout pregnancy. But more than because it is a basic and essential element of self care and wellbeing, I encourage regular exercise because it simply makes us feel better. Through movement, motion, body awareness, we feel better, move better, flow better. We feel the earth beneath us and the air around us and the life force within us – all in the energy we create through action. Look at some of the known benefits to daily exercise:

  • On the physiological level, increasing blood flow and oxygen intake; accelerating digestion; improving appetite and hydration.
  • On a cellular level, stimulating and rejuvenating.
  • On the pregnancy preparation level -body awareness, flexibility, strength, stamina and breathing.
  • On the postpartum level – body recovery and increased energy and emotional/hormonal balancing.
  • On a mental and even spiritual level – by raising our energy, we raise our spirits, we uplift our mood, elevate our inner vigor, and improve our outlook.

Whatever your chosen form of physical expression and release, exercise brings us more in tune with our bodies, and with so much going on in and with your body right now, that’s one more great benefit. All in all, you can see how the physical is considered a sacred element of self nurturing, care and understanding. Exercise therefore is more of a ritual than a routine. It is not mindless, going through the motions, but rather mindful, elevating the emotions.

If you already have a regular and balanced exercise program, great – please keep it up. If you don’t, we’ll explore some options that may work for you. The bottom line is actively finding something you enjoy, and sticking with it. Every day. Or several things. Get some variation in your routine going. Have fun with it. Be good to your body, and that means giving it a chance for expression, release, movement and flow.

The rule of thumb for continuing an exercise routine during pregnancy, for most healthy women, is this: if you were doing it before, you should be fine continuing. If you haven’t, now is a wonderful time to start, slowly and carefully. Listen to your body. Use your own judgment. Remain in touch and in tune. It should feel good. Pushing yourself a little is okay, and often an essential element of exercise (if we didn’t, we might still be on the sofa, right?). Pushing yourself too much is not okay – that’s simply missing the point and not respecting your inner wisdom. Now is not the time to take it to the extreme of “no pain/no gain.” Use your common sense. Pregnancy is not the time to be training for a marathon or taking up kickboxing. But it is the time to care for your body, and that means exercising on a regular, ideally daily, basis. One midwife I admire advises you work up a sweat every day. There’s a lot to be said for this. Sweating and the slight raising of body temperature helps our body cleanse and fight off any toxins within us. A nice warm bath might work for that too!

“Energy begets energy.” It’s an old expression I’ve always believed in. The basic principle is this. The more you move, the more things move. It’s like the more your raise your energy, the higher your energy rises, right? Exercise is motion; motion is energy. So to create more energy, exercise!

All this said, part of being in touch and in tune with your body through this special time is knowing and respecting when you need to rest. Our needs for sleep are often increased in stages through pregnancy. When you feel extra sleepy, honor your body. Allow yourself more sleep. You will be energized in due time from the rest, and ready to return to exercise before you know it!

You probably already know all of this already. This is nothing new, right? So then why do we find it so hard to do sometimes? So hard to find the time, the energy, the motivation, the excuses…

The tricky part for so many of us is just starting. Remember that old Nike commercial?  Just do it. Well? Really. Just start. You know what happens. Once you start, you get in the groove and you realize how good it feels! Working out, walking, or doing a routine with other people can be a good motivator. Involve your partner, enlist some friends, or sign yourself up for a class or at a nearby gym. If daily exercise is not part of your life, take a good look over your day and see where your time is going – and how you might be able to make some changes or squeeze in the ritual. Consider these ways to fit in this essential time:

  • Waking a little earlier (here we go again!) and fitting in fifteen minutes of yoga or stretching in the morning.
  • If you’re working, consider walking to work, or have a quick lunch and then treat yourself to some fresh air and exercise for the rest of the lunch hour.
  • Meeting your friends at the gym for a class a few afternoons a week.
  • Taking a walk with your sweetie after dinner every evening.
  • Getting a good stroller and walking with other little ones (and fellow mothers) every afternoon.
  • Invest in a few prenatal yoga dvds or download some “free” options through Amazon Prime – and then make the time to do them.

Yes, it does get easier with time – even with the growing belly, and/or the challenge of doing it with little ones around. It’s amazing what our children can adapt to. Witnessing, or even better, being a part of, your self-care routine and ritual – be it exercise class, yoga in the living room, or daily strolls – can be a positive part of your child’s day – not to mention the fact that you are teaching by example the importance of taking care of one’s self. You are teaching your children that you believe you matter, and your body matters. What a wonderful lesson that no words can replace.

Even as a single mom without any support or reliance on childcare/babysitters/spouse breaks, etc. – and with the complete responsibility of work and finances, I made it happen. It was a conscious effort on my part, and for good reason. For me, the physical release of exercise is as essential to my emotional and spiritual wellbeing as anything. I don’t know if it’s the fresh air, the time in nature, the quiet and calm of being “out there,” or the endorphins and sweat released, but the ritual of my daily walks or runs or whatever it may be, is as important to my body, my and my soul as any practice I have chosen in my life. The daily workouts were an essential part of my day throughout pregnancy. Thanks to having dogs, I “had” to walk them every day after work, no matter how tired I’d be when I came home, dirty and sweaty and covered in sawdust (seriously – I worked in a wood shop). This ritual continued after baby was born (thanks to a good baby/child carrier) and then eventually evolved into sharing the walk time with my little one when he got too big to carry. Ah… when was that?  Age seven or so? Remember, you get stronger as they get bigger! Anyway, my time “out there” became my therapy. Today, twenty something years later, it continues to be my “temple.”

Still not convinced? Still not managing to do it daily? Hmmmm…Let’s look at the reasons why, or rather, why not. The two greatest excuses for not exercising are:

  • I don’t have time. My job/family keeps me too busy. Only pregnancy IS your job right now – or at least a very important part of it. Honor it. Honor yourself. Make the time. And exercise can be family time. It need not be a draw away from the family. They can do it too!
  • I haven’t found anything I like to do. Well then, now is a wonderful time to explore your options!

Try a few; try them all. See what feels best for you, what fits into your lifestyle, what’s available, accessible, close; what works, what’s fun, what feels good. Some ideas to try are walking, gentle jogging, swimming, dancing, dog walking, hiking, gardening, yard work, house work, workout tapes and dance or exercise classes. And yoga! Prenatal yoga is becoming widely popular and available – and for very good reason. I’ll spare you my rant on my love of yoga… this time.

A few things to focus on, within or in addition to whatever routines you choose:

  • Pelvic floor exercises. This includes Kaegel exercises, the elevator and in yoga, the Mulbandh or yogic root lock. All of these are beneficial not only for toning before birth, but for becoming aware of and comfortable with how to relax in birth, and then for healing after birthing. They also help you understand and get in tune with this beautiful part of your body.
  • Core exercises. This includes stomach exercises, which in turn alleviates pressure from your back, improves your posture and works on muscles that will be essential in birth, recovery, and then a lot of years of carrying baby… You can work your muscles, and focus on slow strengthening, from the inside out. You may try crunches rather than full sit ups. There are also leg lifts and side crunches, and pelvic tilts, pelvic bridge, and slow pulsing elbow to knee, and so many more. Do be careful as your stomach muscles are now or will soon be stretched taught around your belly, so this is not the time to overextend. Again, know, respect and care for your own body.
  • Squatting and general flexibility. Squatting is one of the most basic, traditional pregnancy preparation moves you can work on now. Sure, this can help ease discomfort in pregnancy, strengthen you for birth, and it can also prepare you for good things to come (think: squatting down to pick up your little one, or tie his/her shoes, as a couple examples).

Remember – you’re carrying this little one inside you now, but before too long, you’ll be carrying him or her in your arms, on your hip or strapped to your chest or back. So, keeping fit now will have added benefits later. But this isn’t just about getting through the childbirth continuum. It’s about being fit for life. It’s about self care, self nurturing and responsibility of your whole self.

Bottom line: Do some sort of exercise, every day. Variation is the spice of life, and a good rule of thumb for a balanced life. Enjoy it. Enjoy yourself. Care for and love yourself.