Physical activity during pregnancy

Physical activity during pregnancy
Exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including during pregnancy.

Regular exercise is essential for your health, and it’s just as important during pregnancy. Many women who were active before they became pregnant want to continue their usual workouts while pregnant. Those who were less active often want to do more exercise to make sure their pregnancy goes smoothly, and to ensure the health of their baby.

Physical activity recommendations

Current research shows that exercise during pregnancy is safe as long as the mother does not have any contraindications. In fact, physical activity is beneficial for both the mother and her baby. Several health organizations, such as the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP), and the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ), recommend regular physical activity during pregnancy.

The most recent Canadian recommendations for physical activity during pregnancy indicate that pregnant women should do the following to fully benefit from physical activity:

  • Do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. During a moderate-intensity activity, you should be able to speak, but not sing. The effort must be high enough to significantly increase your heart rate (e.g., brisk walking, indoor cycling, aquatic fitness, snowshoeing).
  • Exercise at least three times a week, but preferably every day.
  • Incorporate a variety of aerobic and resistance training activities.
  • Do pelvic floor muscle training every day (e.g., Kegel exercises). For optimal results, it’s recommended that you learn the proper exercise technique.

The benefits of physical activity

As long as your doctor or midwife gives you the green light, you can exercise without worry. Here are some of the research-based benefits of doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week:

Studies have shown that moderate-intensity exercise does not increase the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, low birth weight, or caesarean sections.
  • Reduces the risk of excessive gestational weight gain by 32 percent.
  • Reduces the risk of gestational diabetes by 38 percent.
  • Reduces the risk of hypertension and preeclampsia by 40 percent.
  • Improves general fitness, decreasing shortness of breath.
  • Reduces the risk of depression by at least 25 percent.
  • Improves self-esteem.
  • Decreases back pain severity.
  • Reduces the risk and severity of urinary incontinence during pregnancy.
  • Decreases medical interventions during childbirth.
  • Reduces the risk of giving birth to a heavy baby (weighing more than 4 kg).

Exercise contraindications

If you have absolute contraindications, you can continue your usual daily activities. However, you should not participate in more strenuous activities.

If you have any relative contraindications, you should discuss the pros and cons of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity with your prenatal care provider.

Relative contraindications
  • Recurrent pregnancy loss
  • Gestational hypertension
  • History of spontaneous preterm birth
  • Mild to moderate cardiovascular or respiratory disease
  • Symptomatic anemia
  • Malnutrition
  • Eating disorder
  • Twin pregnancy (beyond 28 weeks)
  • Other significant medical conditions
Absolute contraindications
  • Ruptured membranes
  • Premature labour
  • Unexplained vaginal bleeding
  • Placenta previa after 28 weeks (the placenta implants over or near the cervix)
  • Preeclampsia
  • Incompetent cervix (the cervix opens too early)
  • Intrauterine growth restriction (the fetus is smaller than expected)
  • High-order multiple pregnancy (e.g., triplets)
  • Uncontrolled type I diabetes
  • Uncontrolled hypertension
  • Uncontrolled thyroid disease
  • Other serious cardiovascular, respiratory, or systemic disorder

On your marks, get set . . . go slow and steady

Be sure to consult your doctor or health care provider as soon as you become pregnant. They will ensure that you don’t have any exercise contraindications.

If you were already physically active before your pregnancy, chances are you can continue your normal routine. However, you will need to adapt your workouts as your pregnancy progresses.

For exercise ideas during pregnancy, you can consult Kino-Québec’s brochure on the topic, Active for Two: Physical Activity During and After Pregnancy.

If you’re not used to being active in your everyday life, it’s recommended that you slowly increase your level of activity until you reach 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. You may need to start with low-intensity exercises and gradually increase their duration and intensity as the weeks progress.

There may be times during your pregnancy when you’re unable to follow physical activity recommendations due to severe fatigue or discomfort. If this happens, do what you can and try to follow the recommendations again once you feel better.

Respect your limits

Exercise is good for you and your baby, as long as you stay within your limits. How can you make sure that you’re not overexerting yourself? A good test is to talk while you exercise. You should be able to have a conversation during your workout. If you can’t, you’re pushing yourself too hard.

If you monitor your heart rate during your workout, you can use the table below as a guide. .

Target heart rates for aerobic exercise during pregnancy*
Mother’s age
Under 30 years old
Over 30 years old
Exercise intensity
Target heart rate (beats/min)
*Since there is very little information on the effects of vigorous exercise in the upper target heart rate range, women who wish to train at this intensity (or higher) should talk to their prenatal care provider.

Davenport, Margie H., et al. “Development and validation of exercise target heart rate zones for overweight and obese pregnant women.” Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, vol. 33, no. 5, 2008, pp. 984–989.
Mottola, Michelle F., et al. “VO2peak prediction and exercise prescription for pregnant women.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise, vol. 38, no. 8, 2006, pp. 1389–1395.

What physical activities should I do during pregnancy?

Femme enceinte sur un vélo stationnaire

If your doctor or midwife confirms that physical activity is safe for you and your baby, you can do many types of exercises. Since the goal is to stay active throughout your pregnancy, it’s important to choose activities that are safe, varied, and enjoyable.

If you want to take a group class, look for those specially designed for pregnant women or new moms, as the exercises will be adapted to suit your abilities and needs.

To fully benefit from physical activity during pregnancy, it’s recommended that you incorporate both aerobic and resistance training exercises.

Aerobic exercises

Aerobic exercises are intense enough to make your heart beat faster than it does when you’re resting. They involve large muscle groups and are designed to increase cardiorespiratory endurance (i.e., strengthen your heart and lungs).

During pregnancy, you can do moderate-intensity aerobic exercises like walking, swimming, aquatic fitness, indoor cycling, aerobic dance without jumps, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and running (if you did these activities before your pregnancy). If you didn’t exercise before you became pregnant, you can do these same activities at a lower intensity.

Resistance training exercises

Resistance training involves the use of external resistance—such as weights, exercise bands, or your own body weight—to increase muscle mass.

Adding yoga sequences or gentle stretching to aerobic and resistance training exercises can also be beneficial.

When pregnant, it’s especially important to adopt comfortable positions during your workout. If you experience dizziness, nausea, or discomfort when on your back, you should change positions.

Strengthening your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles is recommended. Seek advice from a prenatal fitness specialist to ensure that you’re doing the exercises correctly.

Other types of physical activities

Some everyday activities, such as gardening and vacuuming, are also considered moderate-intensity exercise.

Physical activities to avoid during pregnancy

  • Activities in an excessively hot and humid environment (e.g., hot yoga)
  • Activities where you risk falling or getting hit in the stomach (e.g., horseback riding, downhill skiing, ice hockey, gymnastics, road cycling, weightlifting)
  • Scuba diving
  • Activities at high altitudes (i.e., over 2,500 metres above sea level) if your place of residence is below this altitude

Dos and don’ts

Make sure to follow these exercise guidelines during your pregnancy. Once you know what you should and shouldn’t do, you’ll be able to work out safely.

  • Drink water before, during, and after your workout—250 to 300 ml every half hour. The colour of your urine will tell you if you’re drinking enough. It should be clear or light yellow.
  • Listen to your body. As your pregnancy progresses, especially in the third trimester, your baby will take up more space, which can cause breathlessness and make certain activities more difficult. Adjust the intensity of your workout or do different exercises that are more comfortable. Feel free to take breaks as needed.
  • Be careful when doing activities that require balance and coordination. As your uterus expands and your baby grows, your centre of gravity shifts, increasing the risk of losing your balance and falling.
  • Don’t get overheated. Wear breathable, moisture-wicking clothes.
  • Don’t hold your breath. Breathe normally when doing resistance exercises.
  • Don’t do intensive training. Instead, focus on your general physical fitness. If you do an intense workout one day, make sure to do lighter exercises the following day.
  • Don’t overstretch your ligaments or tendons (e.g., extreme yoga poses, intense stretching). In preparation for childbirth, your body releases hormones that relax your joints, increasing the risk of injury during exercise.
  • If you plan to train beyond these recommendations or take part in competitions during your pregnancy, talk to your prenatal care provider to discuss the risks involved and modify your training if necessary.

Symptoms to watch for

If you experience any of the following symptoms while exercising, stop immediately and contact your doctor or midwife:

  • Persistent, excessive shortness of breath that does not resolve with rest
  • Severe chest pain
  • Regular and painful uterine contractions
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Persistent loss of fluid from the vagina indicating rupture of the membranes
  • Persistent dizziness or faintness that does not resolve with rest


Things to keep in mind

  • Physical activity is essential during pregnancy.
  • Doing exercise during pregnancy is not only safe, but also beneficial for the mother and her baby.
  • Pregnant women with no contraindications should do 150 minutes of varied, moderate-intensity exercise every week.
  • Women who were less active before becoming pregnant should gradually increase their physical activity from the beginning of their pregnancy to meet these recommendations.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Stephanie-May Ruchat, Ph.D., professor in the department of exercise science, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: December 2018


Photos: Bandurenko and GettyImages/Wavebreakmedia



Please note: Hyperlinks to other websites are not updated regularly, and some may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • BLANCHET, C., et al. “Activité physique et de mieux-être,” revised version. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec, forthcoming, 64 pp.
  • CHUM Birthing Centre. “Gestational diabetes and physical activity.”
  • The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. Healthy Beginnings: Giving Your Baby the Best Start, from Preconception to Birth, 5th ed., Mississauga, Wiley, 2017, 288 pp.
  • The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. “2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity throughout Pregnancy.”

Scientific references

  • Davenport, Margie H. (ed.), et al. “Prenatal exercise for the prevention of gestational diabetes mellitus and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 52, no. 21, 2018, pp. 1367–1375.
  • Davenport, Margie H., et al. “Impact of prenatal exercise on both prenatal and postnatal anxiety and depressive symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 52, no. 21, 2018, pp. 1376–1385.
  • Davenport, Margie H., et al. “Impact of prenatal exercise on neonatal and childhood outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 52, no. 21, 2018, pp. 1386–1396.
  • Davenport, Margie H., et al. “Prenatal exercise is not associated with fetal mortality: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, October 18, 2018.
  • Davenport, Margie H., et al. “Exercise for the prevention and treatment of low back, pelvic girdle and lumbopelvic pain during pregnancy: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, October 18, 2018.
  • Davenport, Margie H., et al. “Prenatal exercise (including but not limited to pelvic floor muscle training) and urinary incontinence during and following pregnancy: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 52, no. 21, 2018, pp. 1397–1404.
  • Davenport, Margie H., et al. “Impact of prenatal exercise on maternal harms, labour and delivery outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, October 18, 2018.
  • Mottola, Michelle F. (ed.), et al. “Lignes Directrices Canadiennes Sur L’activité Physique Durant La Grossesse.” Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, vol. 40, no. 11, 2018, pp. 1538–1548.
  • Ruchat, Stephanie-May, et al. “Effectiveness of exercise interventions in the prevention of excessive gestational weight gain and postpartum weight retention: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 52, no. 21, 2018, pp. 1347–1356.
  • Ruchat, Stephanie-May, et al. “Walking program of low or vigorous intensity during pregnancy confers an aerobic benefit.” International Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 33, no. 8, 2012, pp. 661–666.
  • Sun, Weijia, et al. “Physical activity and body image dissatisfaction among pregnant women: A systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies.” European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, vol. 229, 2018, pp. 38–44.