Exercise and Fitness

Regular physical activity — exercise that is done on most days of the week — has many health benefits. It can help you prevent or control disease, lose weight, and feel better. Exercise is key to a healthy lifestyle.

Benefits of Exercise
Exercise can strengthen your heart and promote the health of your blood vessels. It helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, which can reduce your risk of heart disease.

Exercise can help build and maintain strong bones. It helps slow the bone loss that occurs as women age and begin to develop osteoporosis.
Exercise is good for your mind as well as your body. Staying active promotes mental well-being, relieves stress, helps you sleep better, and can help ease depression and anxiety.

Types of Exercise
There are two types of exercises — cardiovascular (or aerobic) exercise and strength training. A mix of both is best.

Cardiovascular Exercise
Cardiovascular exercise causes your heart and lungs to work harder to build fitness.

Cardiovascular exercise also helps build endurance. The more endurance you have, the longer you can exercise. Examples of cardiovascular exercise are:

  1. Swimming
  2. Running
  3. Bicycling
  4. Walking
  5. Cross-country skiing
  6. Aerobic activities

Target Heart Rate for Women
Your maximum heart rate (the fastest your heart can beat) is usually 220 minus your age. Your target heart rate is 60 to 80% of the maximum.

Strength Training
Strength training, also called resistance training, builds muscle and slows bone loss. Examples of strength training include:

  1. Lifting weights
  2. Using weight machines
  3. Using resistance bands
  4. Push-ups
  5. Leg lifts
  6. Squats
  7. Sit-ups

Getting Started

If you are in good health, you do not have to see your doctor before you begin a moderate exercise program.

You may want to consult a fitness instructor who will set a routine for you to follow under his or her supervision or on your own.

There also are many videos, books, and magazines available on exercise and fitness. You may want to ask a fitness instructor to suggest a video that will match your level of fitness.

If it has been some time since you have exercised regularly, you should start exercising slowly and gradually.

Warming Up and Cooling Down
Each exercise session should include a warm-up and a cool-down period.
Start the exercise session with a warm-up period for 5 to 10 minutes. This is light activity, such as slow walking or stationary cycling at a low resistance.

After exercising, cool down by slowly reducing your activity. Cooling down for 5 to 10 minutes and stretching will increase flexibility and prevent muscle soreness.

Things to Watch
Most women can exercise at some level without any risk. However, any activity done in excess or the wrong way can cause injuries and long-term problems.

Injuries
Women who routinely exercise too much may get injuries because of repeated stress on their muscles and bones.

One way to avoid injury is to rest on some days or alternate between vigorous and lighter activity.

Finally . . .
Regular exercise promotes a healthy heart and lowers your risk of many health problems. It also can give you more energy, help control your weight, and make you feel better. Find exercise that you enjoy and take time to exercise every day.

This excerpt from ACOG’s Patient Education Pamphlet is provided for your information. It is not medical advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for visiting your doctor. If you need medical care, have any questions, or wish to receive the full text of this Patient Education Pamphlet, please contact your obstetrician-gynecologist.

To ensure the information is current and accurate, ACOG titles are reviewed every 18 months

Copyright © November 2006 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists