If you’re thinking about having a baby but the usual extent of your exercise is walking round the shops, then it’s time to think about getting yourself in shape before conceiving.
Why exercise is important
First off, there’s plenty of evidence that couples who are generally fit and healthy will find it easier to conceive and maintain a pregnancy beyond its early stages in the first place.
Secondly, if you’re used to regular exercise before pregnancy then it’ll be easier for you to maintain a fitness regime throughout your pregnancy, which is important. Not only will being fit help you to adjust to the huge physical and even emotional changes you’ll experience during pregnancy and help ease the discomforts pregnancy can involve, but good stamina, flexibility and controlled breathing can make all the difference during labour itself.
What’s more, regular safe exercise during pregnancy will help prevent you from piling on extra, unnecessary pounds and establishing good habits will help you get back into shape following birth.
How to start exercising
If you’re not used to exercising then introduce exercise slowly*, keep your aims within easy reach and build up the number, length and intensity of exercise sessions each week. You should aim to get at least four workouts of 20 minutes each per week and ideally four to five sessions of 30-40 minutes, working up a slight sweat. It’s a good idea to vary the type and intensity of workouts. Whatever form of exercise you do remember to leave time to warm up before, stretch and warm down afterwards.
Not all the exercise you get has to involve gym kit and sweating, you can improve your general fitness levels by not always taking the easy option, whether that’s walking instead of taking the bus, or taking the stairs instead of the lift.
Good ways to exercise for women trying to conceive
Swimming is a great form of exercise to get into the habit of if you’re planning to conceive as it’s a gentle but effective workout that you can easily continue with into your pregnancy. Swimming is both good for cardiovascular function and requires you to use a wide range of muscles - particularly in your arms and legs. At the same time it’s a low impact sport that's easy to vary in terms of intensity. Importantly, the water offers good support to pregnant women, making the risk of injury very low and giving a sense of weightlessness.
If the idea of a watery workout appeals but you find it difficult to motivate yourself to exercise alone, why not try a water aerobics or water fitness class?
A good brisk walk for about 30 minutes will also get your heart going - though if you’re not used to the exercise then start off with shorter walks and build up with a few extra minutes each time. If you want to be a bit more serious about it and work out your arms too you could try Nordic walking, using supportive poles to pump your arms as you walk.
As long as you stick to normal cycle paths and roads, cycling is a great low impact workout that you can continue during pregnancy though it isn’t as low-risk as walking or swimming, as there is always the chance that you could fall off your bike. Cycling off-road can often be more physically demanding and you should leave that to others once you’re pregnant due to the higher likelihood of taking a tumble.
Yoga and pilates
Yoga and pilates are great for building up muscle tone, developing flexibility and for helping you relax. Both also have the advantage that you can later move on to pregnancy-specific courses and exercises.
*Before embarking on an exercise programme you should consult your doctor.