What Are the Latest UK Recommendations for Safe Exercise Intensity During Pregnancy?

12 June 2024

Modern society fosters a culture of both physical activity and health consciousness. Consequently, pregnant women yearn to remain active throughout their pregnancy. In response to this, scholars, healthcare professionals, and global health organizations have developed guidelines that recommend safe exercise intensities for pregnant women. However, what does the United Kingdom (UK) specifically recommend? This piece provides you with a detailed outlook on the latest UK recommendations for safe exercise intensity during pregnancy.

Understanding the Importance of Exercise During Pregnancy

Before delving into the specific recommendations, it is crucial to comprehend why exercise during pregnancy is endorsed. Pregnancy involves many physical and emotional changes that may be daunting for some women. However, experts confirm that engaging in regular, moderate-intensity exercise can help manage these changes and promote overall health.

Research indicates that exercise during pregnancy confers numerous benefits including improved mood, enhanced stamina for labor, faster recovery post-delivery, and lessened discomfort during pregnancy. It can also help in managing weight gain associated with pregnancy. Moreover, it reduces the risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and cesarean section.

According to a study indexed in Google Scholar, moderate-intensity exercise didn't escalate the risk of low birth weight, preterm birth, or miscarriage. Hence, moderate exercise is not only beneficial for the mother but also entirely safe for the baby.

The UK Guidelines for Exercise Intensity During Pregnancy

In the United Kingdom, the guidelines for exercise intensity during pregnancy are determined by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the National Health Service (NHS). These guidelines recommend that pregnant women should aim to achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week.

This moderate-intensity activity could include brisk walking, swimming, or gardening. Pregnant women are also encouraged to add strength training exercises to their routine, focusing on major muscle groups. However, these strength training exercises should be done carefully, avoiding any strain on the back. Women are also advised to avoid activities with a high risk of falling or those that involve contact sports.

Interestingly, the UK guidelines also emphasize the importance of recognizing individual capabilities, comfort, and existing fitness levels. Pregnant women are advised to listen to their bodies and adjust the intensity and duration of their exercises accordingly.

Comparison with International Guidelines

For a broader context, it is worth comparing the UK's guidelines with other countries' recommendations. In the United States, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) also recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week for pregnant women.

Similarly, in Australia, the guidelines developed by the Australian Government Department of Health promote the same level of activity. However, the Australian guidelines also suggest that pregnant women who were previously very active may continue their routine after consulting with their healthcare provider.

Although these guidelines from different countries are mostly similar, they all stress the importance of personalizing exercise routines to individual needs, abilities, and comfort levels.

Incorporating the UK Guidelines into Daily Life

Now that you are aware of the guidelines, the next step is to integrate them into your daily life. Begin by choosing activities that you enjoy and feel comfortable doing. Gradually increase your activity level, ensuring that you do not overexert yourself.

It is beneficial to mix various types of exercises. For instance, you could engage in moderate-intensity aerobic activities like swimming or brisk walking several times a week, supplemented by strength training exercises.

Remember, it's not about becoming an athlete overnight. The goal is to be active and maintain a healthy lifestyle during your pregnancy. It's also advisable to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regime.

Monitoring Exercise Intensity During Pregnancy

One of the critical aspects of exercising during pregnancy is being able to monitor your intensity. The NHS recommends an easy way to measure this: the 'talk test.' During moderate exercise, you should be able to talk without panting. This simple test can help you gauge if your activity level is safe and appropriate for your pregnancy.

Moreover, avoid exercises that make you feel extremely tired or cause you to have shortness of breath. Unusual pain, dizziness, or feeling faint are other signs that you may be overdoing it. In such cases, it's crucial to stop exercising and consult your healthcare provider.

To sum it up, the UK guidelines recommend moderate-intensity exercise for pregnant women. The intensity should be such that it keeps you active, yet doesn't exhaust or harm you or your baby. The key is to listen to your body and adjust your activities accordingly. So, stay active, stay healthy, and cherish this beautiful phase of your life.

Avoiding High-Intensity Exercise During Pregnancy

High-intensity exercise during pregnancy is usually not recommended, especially for those who were not regularly engaging in intense workouts prior to pregnancy. It's important to understand that during pregnancy, your body experiences significant changes that may affect your ability to handle strenuous activity.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the National Health Service (NHS) both advise against high-intensity workouts. According to an article indexed in Google Scholar, intense exercise may lead to complications such as a higher heart rate, dehydration, and an increased risk of injury due to changes in balance and centre of gravity during pregnancy.

Instead, pregnant women are encouraged to take part in moderate-intensity exercises such as brisk walking and swimming. Yoga, Pilates, and certain types of dance are also beneficial, as they promote flexibility and are gentle on the joints. It's also worth noting that during pregnancy, your pelvic floor muscles undergo significant strain. Therefore, incorporating pelvic floor strengthening exercises into your routine can be beneficial.

However, if you were previously accustomed to a high level of physical activity, it's not necessary to completely abandon it. For such women, the United States' sports medicine guidelines suggest a gradual reduction in intensity rather than a sudden halt, along with regular monitoring of their heart rate and overall well-being. However, it is vital to consult a healthcare professional before continuing with vigorous intensity sports or exercises.


In essence, staying active during pregnancy is not only safe but also highly beneficial. However, the intensity of exercise matters. The latest UK guidelines advocate for moderate-intensity activity during pregnancy, suggesting activities like swimming, brisk walking, and strength training exercises. The importance of tailoring the exercise regime to individual capacities, comfort, and existing fitness levels is highly emphasized.

The key takeaway from the guidelines is that pregnant women should be able to carry out a conversation during their workout without panting, known as the 'talk test.' This simple measure ensures that the activity level is not too strenuous.

Remember, it's not about reaching new fitness milestones, but about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preparing your body for the process of childbirth. So, whether you choose to take a swim, enjoy a brisk walk in the park, or simply engage in some light gardening, ensure you are following the recommended guidelines and listening to your body. Regular consultations with your healthcare provider will ensure your physical activities contribute positively to this momentous phase of life. Stay active, stay healthy, and enjoy your journey through pregnancy!