Fitness: The Power of Exercise
Ten Reasons to Keep Fit During Pregnancy: A Doctor’s Perspective
By Lynsey Caldwell Owen, MD, FACOG
Whether you are a seasoned athlete or you’re just thinking about starting an exercise regimen, regular physical activity during pregnancy can have many benefits for you and your baby. Keep reading to find out ten reasons why your doctor wants to put on your sneakers and start moving!
- Decreased weight gain: At your first prenatal visit, your doctor will probably tell you how much weight is healthy for you to gain during your pregnancy, based on your weight before conception. These numbers are important, as excessive weight gain is associated with an increased risk of many pregnancy complications and regardless of prepregnancy weight, also contributes to a higher risk of obesity later in life. Exercise, in combination with a healthy diet, can help you avoid tipping the scales on your recommended weight gain.
- Faster postpartum weight loss: Who doesn’t want to get back into their skinny jeans as soon as possible after delivery? A regular exercise regimen is a great way to stay healthy while pregnant and keeping up the routine after your baby is born will help you get back to your prepregnancy weight more quickly.
- Healthier babies: Studies suggest that women who exercise have less risk of having a baby who is small or large for gestational age. Babies who are born at extremes of weight have an increased risk of developing some medical conditions later in life. This is one way that you can contribute positively to your child’s health from day one.
- Prevention of diabetes: Physical activity has long been known to improve your body’s ability to process sugar. Pregnancy is no exception, and regular exercise can help prevent the development of gestational diabetes, as well as assist women who have already been diagnosed in managing their blood sugar and possibly avoiding the need for medications.
- Less risk of high blood pressure in pregnancy: Current evidence suggests that women who exercise, especially before pregnancy and during the first 20 weeks, may be less likely to develop gestational hypertension or preeclampsia.
- Improvement in mood: Pregnancy is associated with significant mood changes for some women, and about one in ten new moms will experience postpartum depression. Exercise has long been shown to help prevent and treat depression and improve self-esteem. So make yourself happier by getting to the gym!
- Improvement in sleep: As your pregnancy progresses, getting a good night’s sleep may be more difficult. Physical fitness is associated with better quality of sleep and less fatigue in general.
- Improvement in muscle/joint pain: Low back pain is very common in pregnancy, about 50-90% of women will experience it to some degree. Some types of exercise, like swimming, water aerobics, and yoga, have been specifically shown to lead to a decrease in low back pain, but it seems that women who do any type of exercise tend to have less musculoskeletal pain than those who are sedentary.
- Less intervention in labor: Some studies suggest that women who exercise in pregnancy require less medical interventions during labor and are less likely to need assistance with pain management.
- Stronger relationships: Whether it’s walking with your partner or going to yoga class with your girlfriends, exercise is a fun and healthy way to get closer to the people you love. You may also meet new people who share your healthy approach to life. Working towards a common goal is universally uniting.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that healthy women should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. The exercise can be broken up into short, creative sessions. For instance, you could try taking the stairs at a brisk pace three times per day and that could add up to 15-30 minutes a day. Even if this amount seems daunting, remember that any exercise is better than none at all. It is important to choose activities that are not associated with an increased risk of falling or trauma; sports like soccer, basketball, skiing, or horseback riding are not the safest choices as your belly grows. In addition, monitoring your exertion is necessary. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising. If you are too out of breath to talk, there may not be enough oxygen making its way to the placenta. You should also wear appropriate clothing so you don’t become too hot or too cold, and make sure that you stay hydrated before, during, and after vigorous activity.
As you can see, exercise during pregnancy has some great benefits for you and your baby, both now and in the future. Whether you are planning to continue your current regimen or start a new one, it’s always recommended that you discuss your plans with your doctor. With some pregnancy conditions, like preterm labor, bleeding, and a few preexisting medical problems, the risks of exercise may outweigh the benefits discussed above. So once you’re in the clear, put this magazine down and get active!