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Personal Training | Women's Health

The Importance of Cardio During Pregnancy: Benefits and Safety Considerations

May 31st, 2024 | 7 min. read

The Importance of Cardio During Pregnancy: Benefits and Safety Considerations
Jade Hutcheson

Jade Hutcheson

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // Herman and Wallace Pelvic Floor Level 1 Certified // EW Motion Therapy Meadowbrook/280

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Pregnancy is a transformative journey, both physically and emotionally. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle becomes paramount as your body undergoes significant changes to nurture a new life. One key component of this lifestyle is cardiovascular exercise, commonly referred to as cardio. Regular cardio during pregnancy offers many benefits, but safe exercise during pregnancy is critical. A physical therapist can be an excellent resource for learning safe exercise practices and maintaining an active lifestyle as pregnancy progresses. Our women’s health specialists at EW Motion Therapy love helping our pregnant moms do this through customized plans and education on safety considerations. Even if you decide that our services don’t fit your needs, it’s essential to understand the safety considerations and complementary exercises to ensure both mother and baby thrive.


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Why cardio is important during pregnancy

Cardiovascular exercise plays a crucial role in overall health, and its importance is amplified during pregnancy. Cardio helps strengthen the heart and lungs, improving circulation and ensuring that both mother and baby receive adequate oxygen and nutrients. Additionally, maintaining a healthy heart rate through regular cardio can help manage excessive weight gain, reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, reduce fatigue, and alleviate common pregnancy discomforts such as back pain and swelling.


Furthermore, cardio exercise promotes mental well-being, as hormonal changes during pregnancy can lead to mood swings and increased anxiety. Engaging in regular physical activity releases endorphins, the body’s natural mood elevators, helping to reduce stress and enhance emotional stability. 


Benefits of cardio during pregnancy

The benefits of cardio during pregnancy are extensive and encompass both physical and mental health:


  1. Weight management: Gaining an appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy is crucial for both mother and baby. However, cardio is an important factor in staying within a healthy weight gain range and maintaining your prior fitness level. Cardio helps manage weight gain by burning calories and maintaining a healthy metabolism.
  2. Reduced risk of pregnancy complications: Engaging in cardio can lower the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and other pregnancy-related complications by maintaining healthy blood pressure and glucose levels.
  3. Eased labor and delivery: Women who engage in regular cardio are often better prepared for the physical demands of labor and delivery. Improved stamina and strength can lead to shorter labor times and a lower likelihood of needing medical interventions.
  4. Faster postpartum recovery: Maintaining fitness during pregnancy can expedite postpartum recovery, helping new mothers regain their pre-pregnancy fitness levels more quickly.


Safety considerations for cardio during pregnancy

While the benefits of cardio during pregnancy are clear, safety must always be a top priority. Before starting or continuing any exercise regimen, it’s vital to consult with your healthcare provider. They can provide personalized advice based on your medical history and the specifics of your pregnancy. 


For individuals without health concerns or complications, the rule of thumb is to exercise how you were before you were pregnant. You may think that pregnancy changes everything, and for some people with doctor’s orders, it does. But in reality, the best way to maintain your fitness and health while pregnant is to continue doing what you were doing beforehand, with safety considerations noted. It is ok to begin exercising during pregnancy if you haven’t before - all movement is good for you and your baby. However, consulting with healthcare professionals and being smart about your load are essential steps before you start. Here are some other essential tips to keep in mind:


  1. Listen to your body: Pregnancy is not the time to push your physical limits. Pay close attention to how your body feels during exercise - moderate exercise is plenty. If you experience dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, or discomfort, especially if you are exercising at a higher altitude, stop immediately and seek medical advice.
  2. Stay hydrated and cool: Pregnant women are more susceptible to overheating and dehydration. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise, and choose a cool, well-ventilated environment for your workouts.
  3. Avoid high-impact and contact sports: High-impact activities and contact sports can increase the risk of injury due to increased relaxin in the body. Activities with a higher risk of falling on your stomach, such as skiing, should be avoided until cleared postpartum. You can still participate in high-impact exercises such as running and HIIT, but simply be more cautious when performing. In most cases, opting for low-impact cardio exercises such as walking, swimming, stationary cycling, and prenatal aerobics classes is best.
  4. Monitor your heart rate and blood pressure: While exercising, it’s important to keep your heart rate and blood pressure within a safe range. A general guideline is keeping your heart rate below 140 beats per minute, which can vary. Your healthcare provider can give you specific recommendations.
  5. Focus on balance and stability: As your pregnancy progresses, your center of gravity shifts, affecting your balance. Choose exercises that offer stability and avoid activities that require sudden changes in direction or pose a high risk of falling.


What other exercises should pregnant women prioritize?

Any and all safe movement during pregnancy is wonderful for mom and baby. In addition to cardio, pregnant women should consider incorporating other types of exercise to support their overall health and well-being:


  1. Strength training: Implementing strength training with deep breathing will reduce lower back and pelvic pain, help stabilize joints that may be a little lax from our relaxin hormone, and create a strong, resistant, healthy body. 
  2. Pelvic floor exercises: The pelvic floor is the star of the show in pregnancy. Properly engaging your deep core and knowing how to relax it can help with pushing, giving birth, and preventing tearing. This also makes recovery significantly easier and smoother. Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles can help support the bladder, uterus, and bowels, reducing the risk of incontinence and aiding in postpartum recovery.
  3. Prenatal yoga: Yoga can enhance flexibility, improve posture, and promote relaxation. Prenatal yoga classes are designed specifically for pregnant women and modified to accommodate the changing body.
  4. Stretching: Gentle stretching exercises can alleviate muscle tension and improve flexibility. Stretching can also help prepare the body for labor and delivery.


Physical therapy: promoting safe exercise

Physical therapy can be a valuable resource for pregnant women seeking to maintain a safe and effective exercise routine. Women’s health physical therapists, in particular, are trained to understand the unique needs of pregnant women and can provide personalized treatment plans that address individual concerns and goals. Let’s go over some of the benefits of physical therapy:


  1. Personalized exercise plans: A physical therapist can develop a customized exercise plan considering your fitness level, pregnancy stage, and pre-existing conditions. This plan will include safe cardio exercises, strength training, and stretching routines.
  2. Pain management: Physical therapists can help manage pregnancy-related pain, such as back pain and pelvic discomfort, through targeted exercises and techniques. They can also provide guidance on proper posture and body mechanics to reduce strain.
  3. Education and support: Physical therapists educate you on safe exercise practices and help you understand how to modify your form as your pregnancy progresses. They also provide ongoing support and adjustments to your exercise plan as needed.
  4. Postpartum recovery: After delivery, pelvic floor physical therapy can aid in postpartum recovery by addressing any lingering pain or discomfort and helping you regain strength and function.


Cardio during pregnancy offers numerous benefits, from improved cardiovascular health to enhanced mood and mental well-being. However, it’s essential to approach exercise cautiously and prioritize safety. Exercise during pregnancy is specific to the individual, their pregnancy journey, and their health conditions—please talk to your doctor before participating in an exercise to be sure you are cleared to do so.


Pregnant women can maintain a healthy and active lifestyle by consulting healthcare providers, listening to their bodies, and incorporating various types of exercise. Physical therapy supports safe exercise practices, ensuring both mother and baby benefit from regular physical activity. Embrace this transformative journey confidently, knowing that a well-rounded fitness routine can enhance your pregnancy experience and promote a smoother postpartum recovery. Our women’s health team at EW Motion Therapy considers it a privilege to journey alongside our expecting mothers as they exercise safely and prepare for labor and delivery. To learn more about women’s health physical therapy, click the button below to download our answers to 20 frequently asked questions.


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