Mamas on Bedrest: This is how its done

March 2nd, 2011

I have received numerous e-mails and inquiries from mamas on bed rest asking what exercises women can do while on bed rest.  Others have inquired, Why do I even need to exercise while on bed rest?

In your normal daily life, you walk around, climb stairs, lift things, do household chores and engage in other vigorous activities. When you do these activities, your muscles contract and release, strengthening the muscles and enabling them to do more, i.e. get stronger. Every notice that once you begin working out, you’re able to carry heavier loads, push heavier things and move things further along? This is because the muscles become more developed with activity and are able to do more work as a result.

As muscles contract and release, they pull on the bones they are attached to. This is actually a good thing because the pull on the bones by muscles  causes them to shed old bone cells and build new bone cells keeping your bones healthy and strong.

Finally, with activity, your heart pumps more. The more your heart pumps, the more blood is circulated around your body. Blood delivers much needed oxygen and nutrients to all the cells of the body as well as removes waste products and carries them to the kidneys, bowels and lungs to be released as urine, feces and expelled air. Your blood also acts as a cooling mechanism. When you more around a lot, your complexion becomes flushed-i.e. more blood is rushed to the skin surface to release heat and keep your body at an appropriate temperature.

So what happens when a someone is sedentary or on bed rest? 

Women on bed rest are not walking around, moving briskly or engaging in any vigorous activities. So the muscles are not regularly flexing and releasing. They are not building and getting stronger, on the contrary, they are breaking down and becoming weaker. As many of you on bed rest may have noticed, the firm shape that you once had in your legs is gone within weeks of being on bed rest. This is due to the lack of muscle stimulation leading to decrease in size and strength better known as atrophy. Over time, women on prolonged bed rest can lose significant muscle strength and actually need post partum physical therapy to do simply activities such as walk or even hold their babies for an extended amount of time. Many women also reported that they were not able to adequately labor following bed rest and had to have a cesarean section delivery.

Bed rest is also associated with bone demineralization or bone loss. Because the muscles are not pulling on the bones, old cells are not being removed and being replaced by new cells as rapidly as when women are active. Calcium and Vitamin D replacement via vitamins may help stem some of the bone loss, but many women suffer significant bone loss as a result of prolonged bed rest.

When we don’t exercise, we don’t increase our heart rates. As a result, our hearts don’t pump vigorously, we lose endurance and stamina. Many women note that they are winded just walking to the bathroom. When the heart doesn’t pump vigorously, blood is not circulated vigorously and  pooling or swelling in distal extremities (the hands and feet) occurs.  Blood pooling in the lower legs can be problematic if clots form (which is more likely in pregnancy due to the increased blood levels needed to support the pregnancy). Clots can eventually dislodge and then travel to the heart, lungs and brain and potentially be fatal.

Many of these negative side effects of bed rest can be alleviated with simple movements or exercises. Several are compiled in the DVD Bedrest Fitness. While this DVD is easy to follow it’s not for everyone.

Mamas on Bedrest and Beyond is happy to announce  a series of informational webinars on exercise while on bed rest. These 30 minute sessions will address the basics of exercising while on bed rest, what you’ll need and how to position yourself in bed to do the exercises. Participants will need internet access, a webcam and a very light resistance exercise band. The webinars are free and will be limited to 10 participants per session. Webinars will begin on March 11, 2011.

If you’d like to participate in a free webinar to learn the basics of exercising while on bed rest, send an e-mail to to reserve your spot.

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