Fit for Pregnancy, Fit for Life
Staying active throughout pregnancy predicts physical fitness later in life, a study finds, emphasizing the importance of getting regular exercise for long-term health. Women who exercise continuously throughout their pregnancies stay more physically fit, reducing their risk of cardiovascular disease and helping them maintain a healthy weight and better body image.
In a new study, researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Ohio and the University of Vermont College of Medicine looked at the exercise habits of 39 women before, during, and after their pregnancies.
Exercisers, keep up the good work
Women who took part in the study all exercised regularly—at least three times per week for 30 minutes or more—by running, cross country skiing, or doing aerobics. Half of the women continued exercising throughout their pregnancies at or above 50% of their pre-pregnancy training levels, while the other women either stopped or dramatically reduced the amount of exercise they were doing. All of the women continued to exercise after they gave birth.
Women who kept up the exercise during their pregnancies gained less weight and less fat, had better physical fitness levels, better perceived body image, and lower risk of cardiovascular disease than women who stopped exercising while waiting for baby.
“The major new finding [of the study] is that continuing exercise during pregnancy appears to be a marker that identifies women who spontaneously maintain a fairly vigorous recreational exercise regimen for at least 18 to 20 years after their pregnancy,” the authors commented.
Your fit pregnancy
If you are already exercising, it’s probably safe to continue during pregnancy. Most women who run or strength train can keep it up while pregnant. It’s normal to feel a decrease in energy as your pregnancy progresses, and you’ll have to adapt your routine to meet the changing needs of your body.
If you haven’t been active before your pregnancy, it’s not too late to start. But check with your doctor or midwife to see how much and what type of exercise is best for you, as some forms of exercise should be avoided by some women.
Most women can safely exercise by keeping these tips in mind:
• Begin by walking for 5 to 10 minutes per day, gradually building up to 30 minutes.
• Always begin and end an exercise session by stretching to avoid muscle strain.
• After the first trimester, stay away from exercises that involve lying flat on your back, as this position decreases blood flow to the baby.
• The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advise women to avoid scuba diving and contact sports such as hockey, basketball, and soccer during pregnancy, as well as those that present the risk of falling, like horse back riding and downhill skiing.
• If you have any of these symptoms, stop exercising and call your doctor or midwife: vaginal bleeding, dizziness or fainting, increased shortness of breath, chest pain, muscle weakness, calf pain or swelling, uterine contractions, decreased fetal movements, headache, or fluid leaking.
December 18, 2008
(Am J Obstet Gynecol 2008;199:489.e1–489.e6)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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