How exercise during pregnancy promotes health, and how much is too much?
Exercising while pregnant can be a scary subject for an expectant mother, especially during the first pregnancy. Many mothers fear exercising could cause problems with their pregnancy such as low birth weight or premature labor. These fears can lead to complete elimination of exercise, in turn sacrificing healthy habits. Women need not eliminate exercise while pregnant unless directed by a doctor. In fact, many studies show moderate exercise helps to promote the health of both mother and baby.
Benefits of Exercise
Exercise promotes circulation, cardiovascular health, muscle tone, and flexibility which in turn help expectant mothers to better react to the physical stresses and demands of pregnancy. Keeping the body in shape also improves self image, which may take a hit after the many physical changes that occur. The rapid changes to the physique are harrowing enough to endure without compounding the issue by eliminating exercise all together.
In addition to helping to cope physically with pregnancy, exercise has been shown to help regulate mood and reduce stress. Although most women are excited about having a child, it is only natural to experience anxiety from such a life changing event. Moderate exercise will help level the ups and downs brought on by hormonal changes by regulating the serotonin levels of the body. In addition to controlling mood, regular exercise helps to promote healthy sleep habits that are important to recharge expectant mother’s energy reserves.
Guidelines to follow
While it is clear that exercise helps to promote the health of the expectant mother, many women are unsure what guidelines should be followed in their exercise program. After all, we have all heard the stories of women who have kept up their vigorous exercise routines into the late stages of the pregnancy, some going as far as running a marathon just weeks before their delivery. While some extremely fit women may be able to continue vigorous exercise without apparent harm to their unborn child, it is better to error on the side of caution and follow a more moderate exercise routine to ensure the safety of the unborn child. The key is moderation, and knowing how much is too much.
Common recommendations include avoiding contact sports, sprinting, horseback riding, downhill skiing, and exercise where the body is flat on its back. Scuba diving and activities at altitude should also be avoided due restriction of oxygen and poor circulation. Keeping the heart rate at a moderate level is very important. In 1985, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology endorsed aerobic exercise as long as the heart rate was below 140. Other exercises such as weight training and calisthenics are permissible, but the intensity should be lowered, and some exercise machines are not designed with the pregnant body in mind.
Exercising while pregnant does not need to be a subject of concern as long as the proper precautions are heeded. Keep the duration and intensity moderate. Do not exceed a heart rate of 140 beats per minute, don’t exercise while flat on the back, avoid heavy lifting, and eliminate contact sports. Make sure you consult your doctor before starting any exercise program, even if you haven’t experienced any problems with your pregnancy. Following these principles will allow you to stay fit, and hopefully feel healthier during and after your pregnancy.
Before starting any exercise program, always be sure to first consult your physician.