Exercise During Pregnancy
By Amy MacQueen, MD
In 1985 the
American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) published recommendations about
exercising during pregnancy. They warned women about the potentially adverse
effects of exercise during pregnancy, and advised them not to exceed a heart
rate of 140 beats per minute. In the last 25 years, however, the
recommendations for exercise during pregnancy have changed significantly.
What do the
latest recommendations say?
guidelines in 2002 from ACOG, the Centers for Disease Control, and the American
College of Sports Medicine recommend an individualized exercise program for
pregnant women that is similar to what they do when they not pregnant. If you
are an active healthy woman without certain contraindications, you can continue
to be active during pregnancy. The current recommendations state that pregnant
women should get 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most, if not all, days of
the week. This is similar to their non-pregnant counterparts. Ideal exercises include
brisk walking, swimming, or stationary bicycling at a level of intensity that
leaves you a little breathless. I recommend the “talk test” to my patients,
which simply means that if you experience a little bit of difficulty keeping up
a conversation during exercise, you are exercising at a moderate level.
What are the
benefits of regular exercise during pregnancy?
As it turns out,
regular exercise conveys benefits to both the mother and the baby. Studies have
proven that exercise during pregnancy lowers the mother’s risk of developing
gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension, post-partum depression,
and urinary incontinence. Women who exercise during pregnancy are less likely
to deliver babies weighing nine pounds or more, and these children are less
likely to be obese at two and five years of age.
Women who do
aerobic and weight-bearing exercise while pregnant also have fewer
pregnancy-related symptoms, such as low back pain.
What kinds of
activities are to be avoided?
pregnant women should engage in low impact activity, with low risk of trauma to
the belly and low risk of falling. If you weight train it is important to avoid
using weights so heavy that you have to strain while lifting them, and you
should not lift weights on your back during the second and third trimesters.
You should also avoid activities that could cause you to fall, such as
horseback riding, bicycling, skiing, and martial arts. Team sports where
collision is possible, such as basketball or soccer, are not recommended for
pregnant women. Yoga, with an emphasis on breathing, is usually excellent to
maintain flexibility, but inverted poses are not recommended because they can
affect blood flow to the baby so it is advisable to work with yoga instructors
who are experienced in working with pregnant participants. If you are
exercising and you experience any vaginal bleeding, dizziness, headache, chest
pain, leaking amniotic fluid, or decreased fetal movement stop exercising immediately
and call your doctor.
conditions that make exercise dangerous?
medical or obstetrical complications, such as heart or lung disease, high blood
pressure, preeclampsia, or placenta previa, should talk with their doctors
before engaging in exercise. Basically, if you have any question about whether
or not you should be exercising, talk to your doctor.
takeaway message for pregnant women who want to exercise?
exercise to my patients who are healthy pregnant women without
contraindications. There is evidence that pregnant women who exercise may have
shorter labors. They experience a lower incidence of labor interventions like Pitocin
and may have a decreased risk of having a c-section. They also reduce their
risks for developing cardiovascular disease later in life.
Dr. Amy MacQueen
is a sports medicine specialist who serves on the medical staff of Cayuga
Medical Center. She is board certified in family medicine and sports medicine,
and is in practice at Sports Medicine and Athletic Performance where she can be
reached at (607) 252-3580.