Getting fit before pregnancy

If you're thinking about pregnancy, or if you're just interested in leading a healthier lifestyle, it's time to get active!

Physical activity is any form of exercise or movement that makes your body use energy. It’s key for being healthy and getting to a healthy weight. And if you do get pregnant someday, the healthier you are before pregnancy, the more likely you are to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

For example, if you’re at a healthy weight before pregnancy, you’re less likely than women who weigh too little or too much to have serious complications during pregnancy, like high blood pressure or diabetes. You’re also less likely to have a premature baby or have a baby with a birth defect. And your baby is less likely to have his own weight problems later in life.

How do you know if you’re at a healthy weight? Check your body mass index (also called BMI). BMI is a measure of body fat based on your height and weight.

How does physical activity affect your health?
Regular physical activity can lower your risk of certain medical conditions, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Breast or colon cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes (often related to being overweight)
  • Osteoarthritis (most common form of arthritis)
  • Osteoporosis (weakens bones and affects many women)

Physical activity also can:

  • Improve your mood
  • Help you manage stress
  • Help you quit smoking
  • Help you sleep
  • Increase your energy throughout the day

What kinds of physical activity can you try?
You don’t have to join a gym to get good exercise. Try activities that you like or that you can do with your partner or friends.

Activities that get your heart rate going are called aerobic. Here are some aerobic activities to try:

  • Walking
  • Riding a bike
  • Water aerobics
  • Dancing
  • Sports, like baseball, softball or volleyball

If you want a little more intensity, try these:

  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics
  • Sports with a lot of running, like basketball or soccer

Strength-training activities help build muscles by improving their strength and ability. These activities include:

  • Push-ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Lifting weights or using weight machines
  • Using resistance bands (giant rubber bands made especially for exercising)

Stretching activities can improve your flexibility and movement. Moving freely makes it easier to reach down and tie your shoes or look over your shoulder when driving your car in reverse. Stretching activities include:

  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Basic body stretches (reaching up above your head or reaching down to touch your toes)

How much physical activity can you do each day?
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that all adults get at least 2½ hours each week of moderately intense physical activity. This is about 30 minutes of physical activity on 5 or more days a week.

All adults need strengthening activities at least 2 days a week. Focus on strengthening the muscles in your legs, hips, back, chest, stomach, shoulders and arms. In each session, do 8 to 10 different activities that work out the different muscle groups in your body. Repeat exercises for each muscle group 8 to 12 times per session.

How can you stay safe when being active?
You wear your seatbelt when you drive to help keep you safe. Likewise, there are things you can do to help make sure your workouts are safe:

  • Talk to your health care provider to make sure you’re in good health. Tell him about the kinds of physical activity you plan to do.
  • Start slow until you’re warmed up.
  • Use the right safety gear and sports equipment.
  • Do your activity in a safe place.
  • Stop your activity if you feel faint, dizzy or nauseated, or if you have pain in your chest or trouble breathing.

Does being physically active cost money?
It doesn’t have to. Sure, you can join a gym or pay to play certain sports. But you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get the physical activity you need. For aerobic activity, walk or run around your neighborhood. Your local recreation center may have low-cost exercise programs that you can join. If you need to stay inside, try exercising to a workout video.

For strength training, use things you find in your house. Make your own weights—use soup cans or fill plastic bottles with water or sand. And use your own body weight by doing activities like push-ups, pull-ups or sit-ups.

What if you haven’t exercised in a while?
If you've never been active or haven't been in a while, start slowly. Begin your physical activity program with short sessions of 5 to 10 minutes and build up from there.

If you haven’t exercised in a long time, talk to your health provider before you start any physical activity if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Have heart disease or are at high risk of having heart disease
  • Have had a stroke or are at high risk of having a stroke
  • Have diabetes or are at high risk for having diabetes
  • Are obese (BMI of 30 or more)
  • Have an injury or disability
  • Have a bleeding or detached retina
  • Had recent eye surgery or laser treatment on your eye
  • Had recent hip surgery

How can you stay motivated to keep exercising?
Here are some tips to keep your workouts fun:

  • Pick activities that you like to do. If you don’t like to run, don’t run.
  • Mix it up. Try different activities so you don't get bored.
  • Team up with your partner or a friend.
  • Once you get into a groove, replace some moderate activities with more intense ones. For example, running for a short distance instead of walking.
  • Sneak in mini-workouts whenever you can. For example, if you have kids, make time to play with them outside. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park your car at the back end of the parking lot to make you walk farther. Get off the bus or train a few stops early and walk.

For more information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
CDC Show Your Love Campaign

Last reviewed November 2012

See also: Your checkup before pregnancyGetting healthy before pregnancy

Most common questions

Can dad's exposure to chemicals harm his future kids?

Dad's exposure to harmful chemicals and substances before conception or during his partner's pregnancy can affect his children. Harmful exposures can include drugs (prescription, over-the-counter and illegal drugs), alcohol, cigarettes, cigarette smoke, chemotherapy and radiation. They also include exposure to lead, mercury and pesticides.

Unlike mom's exposures, dad's exposures do not appear to cause birth defects. They can, however, damage a man's sperm quality, causing fertility problems and miscarriage. Some exposures may cause genetic changes in sperm that may increase the risk of childhood cancer. Cancer treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation, can seriously alter sperm, at least for a few months post treatment. Some men choose to bank their sperm to preserve its integrity before they receive treatment. If you have a question about a specific exposure, contact the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists at www.mothertobaby.org/.

I've been diagnosed with PCOS. Can I get pregnant?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a medical condition that can affect a woman's menstrual cycle, hormones, heart, blood vessels, appearance (especially excessive hair growth) and the ability to have children. Although women do make small levels of androgens, also called male hormones, women with PCOS typically have high levels of androgens. This creates a hormonal disorder that affects ovulation and fertility. PCOS can cause many infertility cases. However, with the right treatment, many women have been able to get pregnant.

Women with PCOS often have trouble keeping a healthy weight. Having a healthy weight and increasing physical activity will help maintain ovulation and fertility. It'll also help prevent other complications like diabetes and heart disease. Your health care provider might consider the following treatments to help you get pregnant.

- Medications to help improve insulin resistance and ovulation
- Medication to induce ovulation

My menstrual period is irregular. Can I get pregnant?

Every woman's menstrual cycle is different. Some women have their cycle like clockwork. Others have trouble knowing when it's going to happen. If you have only slight variations from month to month, but you have your menstrual period at least once every 25 to 35 days, this could be normal. However, if your cycle is absent for more than 2 months, you bleed too little or too much and you can't predict when it's going to happen, talk to your health provider. Having an irregular menstrual cycle may mean that ovulation isn't happening or it's happening only a few times a year. This will affect your ability to get pregnant. Your health provider will probably check your thyroid, pituitary and adrenal glands. After a checkup your health provider will discuss your treatment options.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).