A host of body benefits can fuel your workouts with baby on board.

By By Mary Anderson
Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

You often hear about the downsides of pregnancy-morning sickness! swollen ankles! backaches!-that can make the prospect of sticking to exercise seems like an uphill battle. (And, TBH, for some moms it is.) But the big changes your body is going through during those nine months also include some motivating health bonuses.

"Most of the changes are due to alterations in hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and relaxin," says sport scientist Michele Olson, Ph.D., a Shape Brain Trust member. Those hormone shifts lead to more blood flow and other domino effects that can actually improve your workouts. (Prenatal exercise critics, listen up!) Check out three of the biggies.

Exercise oomph early on.

During your pregnancy, your blood volume increases to help the baby grow. Thanks to that increase in red blood cells, "in the first 10 to 12 weeks of pregnancy, most pregnant women have a natural physiological advantage for endurance [exercise]," says Raul Artal-Mittelmark, M.D., a professor emeritus at Saint Louis University.

That could translate into feeling stronger on your usual runs or workouts during your first trimester. (As pregnancy progresses, other physiological factors come into play that can decrease your athletic ability, he says.) As always, get the OK from your doc: This is not a time to just start doing distance. (Related: How to Change Your Workout Routine While Pregnant)

Better flex, fewer cramps.

As levels of the relaxin hormone increase, you'll experience more joint flexibility because your ligaments will become more pliable (allowing the pelvis to relax and widen for birth). "You might find you are able to reach and stretch a bit further in your yoga workout," Olson says. "Just be careful not to overstretch any muscle or joint, which could cause you to lose your balance."

Meanwhile, the parathyroid gland, located in your neck, prompts the secretion of more calcium (to help bones develop in the forming fetus). "This increased calcium also helps mom not to have muscle cramps and spasms," Olson says.

Lower blood pressure.

"As progesterone increases, the resistance in your vascular system decreases to allow more blood flow to the fetus," Olson says. What that means for you: more blood flow, oxygen flow, and nutrient flow to everything, including your muscles. (And if you aren't feeling the perks? No worries. Emily Skye couldn't stay on track with her pregnancy workouts either-and it's perfectly healthy.)


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