What cardiovascular (CV) exercise is best and safest during pregnancy?

Why and how you should get some cardio exercise into your life

You may well be feeling a bit pukey and/or constipated (the delights of pregnancy) if you are still in trimester 1, but hopefully that will start to getting better over the next couple of weeks. This feature is all about cardiovascular exercise. If you can face some it may well help ease those pesky pregnancy symptoms.

Cardio exercise is important for keeping your heart and lungs fit and healthy. You’ll need a good level of fitness and endurance for labour (one of the most demanding things your body will ever go through!) and looking after a new baby and the rest of the family (and yourself of course!) Why would you NOT want to improve your cardio fitness so you don’t get puffed out at the slightest thing? Improved cardiorespiratory fitness, whether you are pregnant or not has loads of positive effects on your body, some of which are even more enhanced when you are expecting. Some are only present in pregnancy. These include:

In pregnancy :

  • the heart’s left ventricle increases in size so is able to pump more blood around the body
  • an increase in blood volume (around 45%)
  • a larger, more efficient placenta

For everyone:

  • Decrease in resting heart rate normally; increase in heart rate during pregnancy
  • Increase in size and number of blood vessels to improve circulation
  • Better oxygen transport around the body
  • Increased tidal volume (lungs are able to breathe more air per breathe)
  • The level of HDL (“good”) cholesterol tends to rise
  • Improved flexibility and stronger bones
  • Increase in metabolic rate

If you can’t fit in three ‘proper’ cardio sessions try to incorporate cardio activity into your everyday life (see below). If you can get active for at least half an hour between five and seven times a week this will significantly improve your general fitness.

Ideally you should do three ‘proper’ cardio workouts for at least 30 minutes a week, for example: jogging, cycling, swimming, cross-training or an exercise class. Two slightly longer sessions (45 minutes or more) would be another way to fit cardio in if this suits you better. However, sometimes life gets in the way – don’t give yourself a hard time if you are having a ‘tired’ day. But don’t lie to yourself, either; the results you get represent the effort you put in and there are no short cuts. Chances are that if you just get on and do your workout you’ll feel loads better afterwards – glowing and with a sense of pride and achievement. Natural endorphins will give you a fantastic high.

Everyday cardio

You don’t have to have a home gym or mess up your make-up at the swimming pool to get an effective cardio workout. Your aim is to increase your heart rate and probably get a little bit sweaty. When you have had your baby don’t be afraid of cardio, it will keep your heart and lungs healthy and strong.

  • Housework
  • Gardening
  • Brisk walking to work or back
  • Using the stairs
  • Leaving the car at home
  • Getting on your bike
  • Playing physical games with your kids
  • Getting off the bus/tube/train a stop early or getting on a stop later
  • Going for a walk at lunchtime or after work
  • Parking a short distance from your destination – building in a walk

Some cardio ideas

In pregnancy you know your limits and fitness levels so work at a level that is appropriate for you. A bit of jigging about won’t harm your little one. Try the moves listed below. I have given you some low-impact (left) and high-impact (right) alternatives. The low-impact ones are intended for later on in your pregnancy and the initial post-birth period.


  • One minute of each twice through the list
  • Two minutes of each once through the list
  • Choose five exercises from the list and do each one for three minutes twice.

You get the idea. Mix and match to give yourself a bit of variety. Stick on your favourite music and get moving. Another option is to draw the curtains and have a boogie in your bedroom!

  • Half jacks/jumping jacks
  • Skip-on-the-spot/skip-on-the-spot high jumps feet together (rope not essential)
  • Strong march, knees up/jog knees up
  • Alternate heel to bottom step hamstring curl/jog heels to bottom
  • Low side-to-side lunge/low side-to-side lunge plus jump to change sides
  • Low hops – four each leg/high jump hops – four each leg
  • Heel digs forward/alternate high kicks forward
  • Low twist/twist with jumps and high arms
  • Side-steps/jump side-to-side over centre line
  • Strong wide march/lower wide march
  • Step forward and back/step forward and jump back feet together
  • Lunges backwards/low lunge back plus jump to change sides
  • Jump scissor legs forwards and back (spotty dogs)/spotty dogs and scissor arms
  • Side steps/side steps with jump, overhead clap
  • Tap to sides/quick pendulum leg swings to sides

 The main message is trying to keep mobile and keep active. It will make you feel great and your baby will really benefit from your strong, healthy heart and lungs