Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Should I Exercise While Pregnant?

Should I exercise while pregnant? This is a question asked by many women as they move along the path toward motherhood. Well, the answer is yes. Perhaps a qualified yes after consultation with your physician. But if done carefully, there are a lot of positive outcomes for you and your baby to be gained from physical activity.

How much? In 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in its Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, suggested that women who are not already performing vigorous physical activity should get at least two and one half hours of moderate aerobic activity per week.

Sounds intimidating?  Not really. You don’t have to – and probably shouldn't – perform the entire amount at one time. “Preferably, this activity should be spread throughout the week,” the guidelines indicate. That could translate into five 30-minute sessions per week. And even if a 30-minute block is not in your daily calendar, research indicates that breaking the workout up into sessions of no less than 10 minutes each can offer quite similar results. (Actually, if you've never worked out before and are extremely sedentary, starting out with 10 minutes per day may be a good idea provided you increase a bit each day.)

So what’s an aerobic activity? This is any activity that gets your heart rate up and sustains the increase for the duration of the session. Examples include running, walking, cycling, swimming, and a variety of other modalities. But how can I tell if my intensity is “moderate”? That’s easy. You should be able to speak in somewhat-breathy complete sentences. No extended monologues or soliloquies.

Pregnancy and exercise


Those of you already performing vigorous physical activity may continue provided there are no changes in your current condition and that you share your workout information with your physician. Strength training can also be beneficial provided the weights aren't too heavy. But after the first trimester, avoid any activity that involves lying on your back.

So why is the government – and many other agencies – encouraging pregnant women to become or remain active? Well, while the answers aren't definitive, there are many strong indications that becoming and remaining active during pregnancy can improve the health and well being of you and your baby. Here are a few potential positive outcomes gleaned from a careful review of all relevant scientific studies by scientists from universities in the U.S., Denmark, Norway and Canada:

GESTATIONAL DIABETES


Women who develop diabetes or any form of glucose intolerance during pregnancy have an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes later in life. They also stand a better chance of giving birth to an abnormally large (greater than nine-pound) baby. In addition, a baby born from a diabetic mother has a greater risk of childhood obesity, which can lead to other health complications during the youngster’s life. Symptoms of gestational diabetes include blurred vision, frequent infections, nausea and vomiting, and fatigue.

It is a well-documented medical fact that improved physical activity can help increase glucose tolerance and thereby reduce the severity of if not totally eliminate Type 2 diabetes among the general population. Many in the medical community believe this also holds true for diabetes during pregnancy. In fact, there are studies that have demonstrated a greatly reduced risk of diabetes during pregnancy among those who exercise than among those who don’t.

HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE


Pregnancy-induced hypertension is considered one of the leading causes of preterm delivery and maternal mortality.  Again, it is a well-documented medical fact that increased physical activity can reduce the chance of hypertension among the non-pregnant population.

Most studies have shown exercise provides some protection from pregnancy-induced hypertension. A study involving 59,573 pregnant women indicated just that - a protective effect from participating in physical activity. However, similar findings were not seen in all studies.  Although more research is needed, we still believe exercise during pregnancy can help reduce hypertension during that period if for no better reason than its role in maintaining a safe, healthy weight.

WEIGHT GAIN


Obviously, you’re going to gain some weight during pregnancy. But any excess sets you up for a lifetime of potential obesity. In other words, many of the pounds won’t go away when you deliver. In addition, you may condemn your child to a lifetime of battling the bulge. Your doctor should be able to offer a suggested safe weight gain for you.

Diet will play a key role in maintaining a healthy pregnancy weight. But studies have also given credit to exercise – even a simple walking program – as being a major player in preventing if not reducing excessive pounds.

Pregnant woman drinking water while exercising


BIRTH WEIGHT


Being born too heavy or too light can have adverse lifetime effects on a baby. One of the fears many have regarding exercise during pregnancy is the latter – a baby too small for its birth age. But research has shown that physical activity during pregnancy is not linked to having a dangerously small baby.  Equally important, research demonstrates a strong correlation between physical activity and reduced odds of having an excessively heavy baby.

In other words, physical activity during pregnancy may reduce the odds of having an excessively heavy baby without increasing the risk of an excessively small baby.

AGE AT DELIVERY


A pre-term delivery of fewer than 36 weeks is considered one of the leading causes of disease and death. Two of the major risk factors are pregnancy diabetes and weight of the mother. As has been stated above, there is evidence to indicate physical activity during pregnancy may alleviate those two conditions. However, it may be advisable to speak with your physician regarding your level of physical activity.

BABY BODY COMPOSITION


There is evidence that children of mothers who exercised regularly were lighter and leaner at birth and remained so later in life. Enough said.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS


Most experts also feel that exercise during pregnancy can help alleviate bloating, low back pain, constipation, swelling, and varicose veins; increase your energy, improve your posture and mood, and help you sleep better. It may also help improve muscle tone, strength and endurance, qualities needed to prepare for labor.

However, be cautious. Cease exercise and call your physician if you experience vaginal bleeding, dizziness or feeling faint, increases shortness of breath, chest pain, headache, muscle weakness, calf pain or swelling, uterine contractions, decreased fetal movement, and fluid leaking from the vagina.

Again, research into exercise and pregnancy is on-going. So far, most of the information is good. But remember to always check with your doctor regarding your level and frequency of physical activity.

By FRANK CLAPS, M.Ed., CSCS

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