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The best way to keep your prenatal exercise routine safe and effective is to use your body's responses as your guide. Your heart rate responds differently to exercise when you're pregnant, so instead of tracking your heart rate, I recommend you use what's called a "perceived exertion" rating.
The goal is to keep your intensity (how hard your exercise feels) in a range that is moderate to somewhat challenging. That corresponds to the level of exercise your body can do without feeling so out of breath that you can't talk. If you're feeling out of breath, that's your signal to reduce your intensity or take a break. The great thing about using this method for monitoring exercise intensity is that it allows women of every level of fitness to continue to exercise in a zone that keeps them fit.
Remember these tips when exercising during pregnancy, whether you're continuing or starting a fitness program:
- Keep your intensity at a level where you can carry on a conversation without feeling out of breath.
- Reduce your exercise intensity or take a break if you start to feel out of breath, exhausted, or dizzy.
- Modify your exercise routine as your pregnancy progresses. Remember that your growing baby adds weight to your body. So as you move through pregnancy, it's as if you're carrying a backpack that gets heavier each week. Whatever you're doing when you're 10 weeks pregnant will feel much harder at 30 weeks because you have to support more weight.
- Listen to your body and discuss your exercise routine with your healthcare provider if you experience any discomfort, pain, or extreme exhaustion.
Note: This answer was written by Catherine Cram, an exercise physiologist in Verona, Wisconsin, and coauthor of Exercising Through Your Pregnancy. She trains other fitness providers in pre- and postnatal exercise techniques.