Ask the experts: Pregnancy exercise, sugar-free gum, the plank

Sovereign ambassador Nicola Smith, a personal trainer, nutrition and lifestyle coach, answers your nutrition and fitness questions.

Q. What group exercise classes can I do when I’m pregnant?
A. When it comes to pregnancy, the main thing is you don't do anything new. Depending on what you were doing before you got pregnant and how far through you are in your pregnancy will determine what you can do. Listen to your body; as you progress, exercise with impact will become uncomfortable so classes that are low impact but include resistance work can be a good transition if your body feels okay doing them. Everyone is different, so do what feels right for you, and stay moving within your comfort level over the pregnancy. If in doubt, you can't beat walking, along with some gentle yoga.
Q. Is chewing sugar-free gum between meals helpful for losing weight?
A. Peppermint is a great way to reduce cravings and cleanse the palate. So have a peppermint tea after a meal or brush your teeth; this is useful for those managing their weight by helping to prevent the urge to eat more after a meal or reach for something sweet. Ideally avoid chewing gum as it can affect your digestive system and is heavily processed.
Q. Many exercise classes include ‘the plank’, but it hurts my lower back. Should I still do it?
A. The plank is a great exercise when it’s done correctly. The key point to understand is it requires the entire body to work. Think of it as a full body muscle contraction. You must brace your core, squeeze your bottom, push up into your shoulder blades and squeeze your thighs. If you are feeling this through your back, you may not be squeezing your bottom and your thigh muscles, which help stabilise the move. Then imagine someone coming over you and pushing you on your hips, you don't move an inch. Everything is braced and strong.
To create this feeling, start on your hands and knees. Brace your entire body so you don't move. Gradually progress to doing your plank with your knees further back and lift one knee at a time for extra intensity. Keep working through the levels and don't go to a place where it hurts your back. Build the strength through the right technique and gradually it will all improve your core strength and the full plank will become much easier.
Q. I think I have problems digesting lactose, so I’ve cut out dairy. What should I eat to get enough calcium in my diet?
A. Calcium comes from a range of sources beyond dairy. When you eat a real food diet that has plenty of variety including lots of green vegetables, nuts and seeds, you should be getting enough calcium into your diet. Not all dairy contains lactose; butter, cream and hard-quality cheeses like gouda don't have lactose in them and can be a good option if you’re sure it’s just the lactose that is the problem. In addition, specific foods like almonds, bone broths, spinach, kale, salmon, broccoli and bok choy are all good higher calcium options to include in your diet. It’s also important to note weight-bearing exercise, resistance training, vitamin D and a good night’s sleep play an equally important role in maintaining strong bones.
Photo: Thinkstock

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