Updated: Nov 12, 2019
This post could have easily been titled "Top 500 Reasons to Exercise While Pregnant," but ain't nobody got time for that, so I've subjectively chosen my 5 fave that will have you (if you're not already) out the door, flaunting that belly as you jog laps around your neighborhood.
1) Faster, easier delivery!
Now this is by far the most exciting reason to add a dose of exercise to your daily routine. I cringe every time I hear about a 24 hour labor--CRINGE! That should not happen. Ever. Even 8 hours, which is considered the average laboring time for women in the United States, sounds a bit too long for my taste. An NIH study from 2012 reported that labor times for women are longer today than they were 50 years ago--could this be partly due to the fact that we're more sedentary nowadays compared to our grandparents generation?
Several studies over the past 10 years-ish have demonstrated that women who exercise regularly (3 times a week or more) have shorter labors on average compared to women who don't. And then of course there's the slew of female athletes who have awesomely quick deliveries as well.
I attribute both of my quick births to regular physical activity. With my first son, I was in labor for just 3 hours, from the moment contractions started to when I pushed him out. My second labor was even shorter at 1 hour--thank goodness we were just 5 minutes from the hospital because yikes! I would not have been prepared for a home/car birth. My own mother (who gave birth 7 times!) and sisters never had labors this short so I can't blame genetics for my good luck in the short labor department.
2) Quicker post-partum recovery
After birth you're going to be pretty tired and have a smushy belly. Neither of those things is ideal and that's where (you guessed it) exercise comes in! Even if you weren't all that active before getting pregnant, starting some regular physical activity during pregnancy will go a long way in making your recovery time quicker and less painful.
Exercise makes your cardiovascular system function more efficiently which means increased blood flow (and thus increased cell oxygenation and nutrient delivery) for quicker healing post vaginal or c-section delivery. Exercise improves muscle tone which is especially important for the core and pelvic floor musculature (which take the hardest hit). Having good tone during pregnancy can prevent back and pelvic pain as well as other things we don't like such as peeing while laughing and painful sex.
3) Less weight gain
While pregnancy is definitely not the time to try to lose weight, you can avoid unnecessary weight gain, and thus a quicker return to that good 'ol pre-pregnancy weight, by maintaining a regular exercise regime throughout each trimester. Increasing your heart rate through endurance or strength training exercises allows excess calories to be used for fuel rather than stored as fat. This will make carrying that baby to the end of gestation much easier, lessen any potential back pain, and if you're vain, like me, can reduce the appearance of stretch marks along the abdomen and hips.
Giving birth is a physical and emotional experience and exercise improves endurance and tolerance for both. Many research studies have already demonstrated exercise's superior benefits over medication in treating conditions like anxiety and depression, both of which are common after having a baby. In fact, when I was doing my undergraduate studies in Exercise Physiology at Georgia State University (Go Panthers!), one of my courses, "Psychology of Physical Activity," was all about finding studies demonstrating the efficacy of prescribed exercise compared to various commonly prescribed medications for psychological conditions.
We all want to be 100% happy, and while there are many factors that contribute to that 100% (like coffee, really good sleep, and Indian food), at least 25% (it's science) can be achieved through physical activity alone via things like increased release of endorphins (which decrease feelings of pain and stress) and more energy! And if you're happy, guess what, your baby, your partner, and ever other person who interacts with you, will also benefit from your merry spirit. So, do everyone a favor, and start moving!!!
5) Healthier baby
And we can't forget about that lil nugget growing inside you. Most importantly, all that stretching and strengthening you do while pregnant is going to give you a healthier baby. Regular exercise reduces your risk of developing gestational diabetes, decreases fetal resting heart rate and has been linked to lower infant birth weight (all good things!). These factors will likely decrease your baby's chance of struggling with weight issues in the future as well--aw yeah!