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5 great pregnancy workouts

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Between morning sickness, back pain, and swollen feet, sometimes relaxing seems so much more appealing than the gym.

Yet exercising during pregnancy can give you more energy, strengthen your muscles, curb weight gain, help with insomnia and lower your risk for complications. Your mood can improve too, even if you weren’t active before pregnancy, according to a recent study in the journal Psychology & Health.

Recent studies show that exercise can have a positive impact on your baby as well.   

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise most or all days of the week—but be sure to get the okay from your doctor before starting a program.

Ready to move? Here, check out some of the best pregnancy workouts you can do now.

1. Prenatal yoga
Yoga achieves the trifecta of prenatal fitness standards because it helps during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and the postpartum period. Yoga puts an emphasis on deep, diaphragmatic breathing--the same type of breathing that is effective during labor and delivery.

“If you’re practicing yoga regularly throughout pregnancy, you’re going to have a much easier time for labor and delivery and the recovery period,” according to Desi Bartlett, creator of "Prenatal Yoga" and "Yoga for Beginners."

Be sure to avoid lying on your stomach, deep twisting, quick movements, crunches, holding your breath and lying on your back after 20 weeks. Small groups are best and the instructor should have at least 100 hours of prenatal yoga training, according to Anne Martens, founder of "Bella Bellies," a fitness program for women in all stages of motherhood.

2. Walking
Whether it’s a long walk through the park, or a short stroll during your lunch break, walking increases circulation, stretches and tones the muscles, and maintains—and may even increase—your endurance. It also has a calming effect on the mind, and can help with pre-baby stress.  

3. Swimming
With the wonderful feeling of zero gravity, swimming takes all the pressure off of the joints, provides resistance, and helps control blood pressure. 

“It makes moms feel overall better,” Martens said.

If you lost your mucus plug, your doctor may advise you to avoid swimming. 

Be sure to slowly ease into the water because jumping in could cause water to come up the vaginal canal. And because your baby can’t control his temperature in utero, make sure the water isn’t too hot.

4. Dance
Salsa, Zumba and ballet are not only fun, they’re great for circulation and the movements lengthen and strengthen the muscles, especially in the lower body.

Avoid deep core work and bending forward, and leave a little flexion—or looseness—in the joints so you don’t accidently over-stretch the ligaments, Martens said. An instructor who has specific prenatal experience can also help you modify moves and make sure the class is safe.

5. Resistance training.
According to a study from Michigan State University, women who did resistance training three days a week for 20 to 30 minutes had a lower risk of gestational diabetes, high-blood pressure, and weight gain. Plus, resistance training can help keep your muscles and bones strong and your endurance up—so important during labor and delivery and after when you’ll be picking up a baby all day and night.

Avoid holding free weights above the head because it stretches all the joints in the body. Don’t hold your breath because it can create intra-abdominal pressure which can weaken the core, cause a hernia, decrease oxygen in the blood stream, raise blood pressure, and although rare, could cause your water to break.

And because the progesterone surge prohibits the smooth muscle tissue from contracting and connecting like it did before, you might want to use lighter weights than you’re used, Martens said.

Julie Revelant is a freelance writer and copywriter specializing in parenting, health, healthcare, nutrition, food and women's issues. She’s also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.