Pregnancy and exercise: insights from Zumba® ambassador Sucheta Pal

As joyful as pregnancy may be, it comes with a host of unpleasant feelings, like nausea, soreness, and fatigue. Exercise is often the last thing on anyone’s mind while they’re pregnant, but staying fit and taking care of yourself during those months is important. While strenuous activity is not recommended, light exercise and simply staying on your feet for a short while each day can be beneficial.

In a Community Chat on the HerStory Women On A Mission Facebook group, Sucheta Pal, a fitness expert and Zumba® ambassador, shared her insights on the different ways one can keep themselves healthy and fit while balancing a career during pregnancy. Zumba® is an international fitness brand that currently operates in over 180 countries, and is headquartered in Miami. It has routines specially designed for pregnancy, such as Aqua Zumba® and Zumba® Gold.

Sucheta Pal
Sucheta Pal, Zumba® ambassador

Here are some excerpts from the discussion.

Q. What are the fitness regimes that you recommend during the various trimesters of pregnancy?

Sucheta Pal: During pregnancy, the heart may increase in size due to increased workload. The heart has to pump blood to a larger uterus, a fetus, placenta and abdomen.

So if a normal person pumps 2.5 litres of blood per min, someone who is pregnant would be pumping five litres in the first trimestersix litres in the second and seven litres in the third trimester. Hence, the heart rate is 15 beats higher per minute. Hence, we always have to make sure when we exercise, we keep our heart rate in check and never to overexert. Light exercise for 150 minutes per week is enough while keeping heart rate below 140 beats per minute.

If you have never exercised before, then please don’t start anything new with a vengeance. Brisk walks and prenatal yoga are great. But if you have been physically active, go ahead. Most doctors will advise you to continue what you were doing before but with 30 percent less intensity and no sudden jerks in your exercise routine.

Q. When one is pregnant, how can they balance their day job along with their everyday fitness?

SP: All you need is 30 to 40 minutes a day, which can be further broken down into two portions in the day. If you’re working, start the day with 30 mins prenatal yoga stretches (please learn the basics from a trained professional first), or a brisk walk.

In the evening, try to hit the gym for two to three days per week to do some strength training with light weights or low impact cardio like Zumba, all with trained professionals. Avoid over exhaustion and dehydration, and you are good to go.

Q. How do you make sure you don’t overexert or strain yourself while doing Zumba? What kinds of reminders or checks do you have in place?

SP: When we overexert and are exhausted, we take blood flow away from the uterus and thus depriving it of oxygen and nutrients that could lead to birth defects or premature birth.

As long as we are incorporating moderate intensity exercises in Zumba we are fine. I keep my heart rate in check below 140 beats per minute, and recommend Zumba classes twice a week.

In addition, my moves of Zumba are dance-based, which research has shown is actually beneficial to the baby’s growth. What I definitely avoid is sudden jerks or high intensity movements like jumps or ab crunches. Squats, lunges, and upper body moves are great for pregnancy when incorporated with Zumba.

Q. A lot of women have difficult pregnancies, and despite doctors’ approval to exercise they are scared and avoid it. What can they do to balance things better?

SP: I totally understand why a woman who has a difficult or a complicated pregnancy would feel worried despite a doctor’s approval. But it’s equally important to keep the pregnant body active and healthy through exercise to keep the cardiovascular system strong and the digestive processes working.

Prenatal stretches, especially hip openers are essential to help during labour. So if the doctor has given permission, then brisk 30 mins walk in the garden and prenatal yoga under expert supervision is recommended.

Q. What kind of diet do you follow and recommend?

SP: During pregnancy, one only needs to add 300-400 calories to the regular 2,000 calorie requirement per day, unlike popular misconceptions that we should eat for two.

Personally, I have 10 soaked almonds, dates, coconut water, and Psyllium Husk (to alleviate my pregnancy-related constipation). I take orange juice when I take my iron tablets is also a must. I also have regular rotis, daal, and sabji and ensure I have 80-100 grams of protein.

I use MyFitnessPal to track and maintain my calorie intake each day. I also like TheBump and the information it offers.

Q. What are some of the myths around pregnancy and exercise that you have come across?


The biggest myth is that exercise during pregnancy is unsafe. If your pregnancy is healthy and you have your doctor’s permission then please continue an active lifestyle. Labour is the biggest fitness challenge of your life and one needs to be ready for it.

People also think that a pregnant woman needs to gain weight. A woman gains about two kg in total in the first 20 weeks, and then approximately 0.5 kg per week until full term at 40 weeks.

There is a total gain of nine to 12 kg during pregnancy. But even if it is not as much, one shouldn’t worry. Rather, make regular checkups to see if the foetus is growing healthily. There is no need to load up on butter rotis or ghee laddoos.


Author: Josep