Regular physical activity is one of the best ways to banish the blues, feel energized and relieve stress. No matter your fitness level or your skill set a quick 30-minute workout improves your mood and your quality of life. When you’re pregnant a daily fitness break becomes more crucial to your physical and mental wellbeing.
Pregnancy, especially in the wake of an infertility diagnosis, is fraught with emotions. You find yourself joyful and thrilled with your impending parenthood one moment and anxious the next. The emotional rollercoaster ride is difficult to endure, and you need ways to tame those big feelings. Exercise helps you cope with the emotional and physical challenges that come with pregnancy.
The surge of pregnancy hormones combined with a fear of causes in the first trimester. As the hormones stabilize in the second trimester your energy returns and you aren’t feeling as emotionally unpredictable. Exercise in the second trimester helps maintain your weight and overall health and prepares you for the grand finale. The third trimester typically sees a renewed increase in your level of anxiety as you likely have concerns about delivery and the health of your baby. You probably feel pretty exhausted by this point due to the extra weight and baby’s activity making it difficult to get your sleep. In the third trimester, even minimal exercise helps.
How Exercise Helps
Pregnant or not, the effect of exercise on your mental health is very positive. Countless research studies confirm exercise is beneficial in maintaining emotional wellbeing, but you’ve probably already felt that yourself. The “runner’s high” is no myth. Here are some of the positive links between exercise and mental wellbeing.
Exercise Helps You Handle Depression and Anxiety: The science behind and the positive impact it has on anxiety and depression is real. Physical activity increases the release of endorphins, the feel-good chemical produced in the brain and spinal cord. And you don’t have to run a marathon to reap the rewards. Moderate, doctor approved workouts three to five 30-minute sessions per week are enough to tamp down feelings of anxiety and depression.
Exercise Eases Chronic Depression Too: According to the American Psychological Association experts agree exercise is just as powerful in easing chronic mood disorders as antidepressants. One theory is that regular physical exercise triggers your body’s release of serotonin and dopamine, powerful natural mood boosting chemicals that make you feel happier, calmer, focused and emotionally stable.
Exercise Decreases Stress: When you increase your heart rate (with your doctor’s approval) you reverse the affect of stress on your brain. Increased blood flow stimulates the body’s release of neurohormones such as norepinephrine. You’ll feel improved cognition, less brain-fog (aka “Pregnancy Brain”) and improved mood. You’ll also experience an increase in communication between your body’s central and sympathetic nervous systems which promotes an ongoing healthy stress response in your body. We all know just how toxic stress is to overall health.
Exercise Promotes Better Sleep: During your first trimester you probably have no trouble falling asleep, but from time to time anxiety may prevent you from having a restful night. As your pregnancy grows and baby’s jabs and kicks become stronger you may have trouble getting comfortable. Once baby is here your sleep becomes a most precious commodity. Believe it or not one of the lasting effects of regular exercise is the body’s (and mind’s) ability to relax when it’s time for bed. Regular workouts also improve your body’s circadian rhythm that signals the body to ease into sleep. Sleep experts and doctors agree you shouldn’t exercise too close to bedtime.
Even Better News About Exercise, Mental Health and Pregnancy
The benefits of exercise on mental health during your pregnancy are exponential. Not only will you feel better physically but you’re improving your physical health for now and in the future. Regular exercise keeps chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes at bay. And on depression and anxiety may help thwart postpartum depression, or at least lessen the severity. Always speak with your doctor if you have concerns about any physical or emotional issues you may experience.
The Right Type of Exercise
You and your physician will determine the right kind of workouts for you during your pregnancy. Obviously you’ll pause any extreme sports until after baby arrives, but depending on your pre-pregnancy fitness level activities such as running or may have doctor’s approval.
Moderate intensity workouts are usually preferred way to boost your mood and increase the benefits to your mental health. If you’re new to regular workouts try intervals of 10 minutes three times a day until you build your stamina. Seek out pregnancy exercise classes for the mental wellbeing and the social aspect, which also helps improve mental health. It takes a village!