Did you know the benefits to exercise begin before birth?
What women should know about exercising while expecting.
Joanna Wallfisch swimming at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena, CA.
As an Olympic swimmer I’ve always know the physical & mental benefits of sports. It’s almost impossible to quantify the positive impact sports have had in my life. But while doing an Outex photoshoot for a pregnant friend, musician, and master-swimmer Joanna Wallfisch it occurred to me how little I knew about the benefits of exercise during a pregnancy. My wife's beloved weekly soccer regimen came to an early pause to avoid impact or injury. Jo on the other hand was able to swim throughout the pregnancy.
So I called a childhood friend, Dr. Tathiana Parmigiano, who specializes in sports gynecology & obstetrics to discuss the topic and ask questions. Thati has travelled to the last 3 Olympic games as part of the Brazilian Olympic committee medical staff, helping women in all sports, including several medalists, and grew up as an accomplished competitive swimmer herself. Here’s a recap:
Exercise is good and encouraged to all pregnant women all the way to delivery unless there are specific extenuating circumstances that your doctor can help you identify against practicing sports during pregnancy. It’s smart to adapt your workouts in the following 4 ways, or “FITT” as she called it:
- Frequency; As often as you’d like. Everyday is good/fine.
- Intensity; Moderate. You should be able to speak. Don’t over do it.
- Type; Both resistance & aerobic are fine.
- Timing; 20-40 minutes is ideal. Don’t do more than 60 minutes.
Use common sense with regards to your age, activity level, and experience with the activities in which you engage. Some examples:
- Avoid activities that could result in falls, impact, or injury.
- Regulate all of the above based on your age, fitness, and experience level, and modulate it as your physical changes alter your balance, endurance, and physiology. Let your body guide you. Stick to things you “know”.
- Avoid competition or “performance” events. You should be setting your own pace, environment, and circumstances.
Swimming is an excellent example of an ideal physical activity for pregnant women for multiple reasons:
- Swimming is low impact in every sense of the word, and your buoyancy will not work against you. While your weight gain may change your efficiency in the water, it’s the kind of activity you can do all the way thru gestation.
- It involves both resistance (strength) and aerobic conditioning that you can regulate as desired.
- Immersion physically increases blood flow and helps reduce swelling
Both pool and open water swimming are fine. Hyperthermia or overheating is a bigger concern than hypothermia from cold water. Stay within your comfort zone and pay attention to changes or environmental changes so you remain in control.
Physical activity such as swimming is also helpful in regulating weight control and maintaining self-esteem during pregnancy. It will help you not only during the pregnancy, but also better condition your body for post-partum recovery and regeneration.
As Jo describes, there are several changes to navigate: “The first 15 weeks were plagued by nausea, and a sense of anxiety not knowing how my body would respond to swimming on any given day. So I went with the flow. In the second trimester the veil of sickness lifted and was replaced by a super-human strength and energy levels. I felt better in the pool and I was able to complete workouts, and even sprint when I felt like it. Being pregnant is hard, it is scary and at times completely overwhelming. I swim for far more than fitness, but for emotional well-being, solitude, meditation and feeling confident in and connected to my ever changing body.
"I believe that swimming can improve the experience of pregnancy. Being in a bathing suit, massive belly sticking proudly forth in a two-piece (because one-piece suits are simply too uncomfortable and restrictive) gives you confidence in your new body. Plus moving multi-dimensionally and weightlessly through the water creates a true sense of power, both inside and out. In water everything is at once magnified and miniaturized; the breadth of movement, freedom, weightlessness, flexibility and well-being is increased, while physical discomfort, self-consciousness, social and emotional constraints all but vanish."
Special thanks for Dr. Tathiana Parmigiano for sharing her experience and expert insights with us. Here she is with Olympic champions, gymnast Simone Biles and open-water swimmer Ana Marcela Cunha, as well as at the opening ceremony in Rio. You can learn more about her work and practice on her website (www.ginecologiadoesporte.com.br), or follow her on Instagram (@ginecologiadoesporte).