Pregnancy All-in-One For Dummies
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Your body undergoes dramatic changes during pregnancy, and these physical changes can make women downright uncomfortable for much of the 40-week duration. These changes range from how your heart and lungs operate to how you process the food you eat to how your muscles and joints change.

One of the best ways to alleviate the discomfort of many of the changes your body is experiencing is to exercise. That's right: If you exercise during pregnancy, you'll spend nine months being far more comfortable than you'd be if you didn't exercise.

Easing back pain and soreness

As your abdomen increases in size and you gain the weight required to have a healthy baby, you'll likely see a shift in your posture (either a greater curve in the low back or a hunched-over appearance in the shoulders). You may also experience some low-back pain as the curvature of your lower spine changes with the added weight of your baby and body fluids.

During pregnancy, your growing baby changes your center of gravity, and muscles in your legs, hips, butt, back, and shoulders either lengthen or shorten because of this shift. Without exercise, these muscle changes can lead to poor posture, which in turn leads to back pain, stiffness, and soreness.

Exercising during pregnancy, however, helps get those muscles back into balance and improves your posture. And many types of exercise specifically strengthen your back and abdominal muscles, helping you get rid of low-back pain.

Fine-tuning your circulatory system

Exercising during pregnancy increases the volume of blood your heart pumps with each beat, increasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients delivered to your baby. This increase in cardiovascular fitness also provides a safety margin for you and your baby by enabling your cardiovascular system to pump out adequate blood flow during times of physical stress.

The increased cardiovascular functioning helps you weather the physical challenges of pregnancy better and with less fatigue.

Helping you sleep better and giving you more energy

During pregnancy, many women tend not to sleep well at night and experience extreme fatigue during the day. Exercise, however, can lick these problems, making you sleep more soundly at night and feel refreshed throughout the day. It's true! If you lie awake at night or sleep fitfully, set up a regular fitness routine; you'll find yourself dozing faster and more soundly as your body recovers from the paces you're putting it through.

Essentially, exercise creates a system in which you're very alert throughout most of the day and then you crash at night, sleeping like a log. As long as you exercise in the morning, afternoon, or early evening, you should feel sleepy at your bedtime. However, because exercise makes you alert, if you work out three or fewer hours before your bedtime, you'll throw off your body clock and be alert at night and dead tired throughout the next day.

Developing muscle tone and flexibility

Exercise at any point in your life builds muscle tone, and if you stretch regularly, you'll also improve your flexibility.

If you currently watch your flabby arms wiggle when you brush your teeth, tend to hide your legs under sweat pants, and could barely touch your toes even when you weren't pregnant, exercise can change your life. Imagine being able to lift heavy objects without help and without hurting your back, wear sleeveless shirts and short shorts with pride, and snake yourself under couches and dressers to retrieve lost toys. A whole new world is waiting for you if you just add exercise to your daily routine.

The best news, though, is that you're not only improving your appearance but also getting your body ready for some difficult tasks ahead: labor, delivery, and motherhood.

Controlling weight gain

During pregnancy, you need to gain weight regularly so that your baby grows properly and is well-nourished. Exercising while pregnant helps you gain a healthy amount of weight that tends to come off fairly easily after you deliver.

A study by Dr. Clapp showed that women who regularly exercised to the end of their pregnancies gained nearly 8 pounds less than nonexercising pregnant women, yet they were still well within the normal weight gain limits for a healthy pregnancy.

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