Stay Heart Healthy During Pregnancy: Tips for an Active and Healthy Pregnancy
February 3, 2016
During pregnancy, your health is more important than ever – especially your heart health. Your heart plays a major role in both you and your baby’s physical well-being. If you’ve never been heart-health conscious, it’s not too late to change. Pregnancy is an excellent time to jump-start new habits for the improved health of you and your baby.
There are three things you can focus on during pregnancy to improve your heart health: diet, exercise, and your mental well-being.
1. Diet: Go Back to Basics
Pregnancy does require a slight increase in caloric intake, but most basic nutritional guidelines for women still apply. There are a few exceptions, however, when it comes to heart health during pregnancy.
Pregnant women who want to improve their heart health should take extra care to increase the fiber and omega-3s in their diets and to decrease sodium intake.
Whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals typically have high fiber content. These foods have many benefits for your heart, such as helping to reduce the risk of heart disease.1 Some studies show that eating 25 grams of whole grains each day may reduce your risk for heart disease anywhere from 15% to 30%.1
Omega-3 fatty acids are also crucial to an expecting mother’s diet. In the form of EPA and DHA, omega-3 fatty acids are helpful with heart health and your baby’s brain development.2 If your diet does not include high levels of omega-3s, consider taking prenatal vitamins that include DHA. This can help ensure that you and your baby receive proper amounts of omega-3s during your pregnancy and fill other nutritional gaps.
Sodium can be particularly detrimental to heart health. Too much salt in your diet can increase your blood pressure, which can stress your heart and can even lead to cardiac arrest in extreme cases.3 Checking the nutrition facts on food packaging is an easy way to monitor sodium levels during pregnancy.
2. Exercise: Stay Fit with Just 30 Minutes of Activity
It is extremely important to stay active during pregnancy. Although it can seem uncomfortable to do much of anything as your body is growing and changing, exercise can give you the energy boost you need and improve your heart health, too! Together with your diet, exercise during pregnancy can help you manage weight gain, which directly affects your heart health. Pregnant women should aim for 2.5 hours of low impact aerobics weekly, or just 30 minutes, five days a week. Low impact activities are generally recommended and include but are not limited to walking, swimming, and prenatal yoga.
Walking is often the easiest of the three to add to your routine. Start slowly and gradually pick up the pace. But make sure that you don’t overdo it; you want to be able to carry on a conversation the entire time.
Swimming is extremely low impact, putting little to no strain on bones and joints. However, the aerobic benefits that swimming provides are tremendous. Not only does it benefit your heart, but it also helps in regulating breathing and engages all major muscle groups. It can be extremely helpful with back pain, too.
Prenatal yoga focuses on the mind and the body. It can be a great mental exercise to prepare for labor and delivery. Generally, a prenatal yoga class should include controlled breathing, gentle stretching, learned postures, a cool down period, and lots of relaxation.
No matter which activity you choose, be sure to stay hydrated. Talk to your doctor before you begin any new exercise regimen. But find a way to be active! Get your heart rate up and keep your heart and body strong during and after pregnancy.
3. Mental Well-Being: A Major Factor Affecting Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is crucial to heart health whether you’re pregnant or not. High blood pressure during pregnancy can cause decreased blood flow to the placenta, premature delivery, and future heart disease for mom, so it’s something you must be conscious of when you’re expecting.2
There are several lifestyle changes you can make during pregnancy to improve your heart heath overall. The first is to decrease your stress levels. Whether this means dropping a few extracurricular activities, taking a much needed vacation, or making time during the day to stop and breathe, it is crucial that your stress levels stay under control. Second, there should be no smoking or alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Both cigarettes and alcohol restrict blood vessels, which prevents them from performing at their optimal abilities. Cutting both of these out from day one, as well as getting a grip on stress, will help ensure that you maintain a lower ￼blood pressure throughout pregnancy.
Pregnancy is a time to focus on you. Give your body the tools that it needs to prosper. Focus on what you’re putting into your mouth and make sure it is nourishing for you and the baby that’s growing inside of you. Also, stay active and busy. Don’t spend hours on the couch; exercise may be just what you need for extra energy. Lastly, keep a check on your blood pressure to ensure that you stay healthy for a long time after you have the baby. A healthy heart is helpful for your body and the baby, so get started today!