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For some reason exercising during pregnancy seems to be a contentious and misunderstood topic with one research paper suggesting that even 60% of doctors are getting it wrong?! Really?! Apparently so….There has been a shift: over the last few decades we have gone from seeing pregnant women as vulnerable and delicate with a great need to ‘take it easy’ to increasingly recognising the long term positive health implications of exercise during pregnancy. So in this article, we take a look at what the latest science says about the risks/benefits and potential preventative measures of exercising during pregnancy:
Here are some of the facts straight off the bat:
‘Historically, pregnant women were considered vulnerable and were advised to reduce their level of activity. In 2002, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) updated their recommendations for exercise during pregnancy to be less restrictive; these recommendations were reaffirmed by the ACOG in 2009. However, a survey of physicians found that more than 60% of physicians were not familiar with the current ACOG guidelines for exercise during pregnancy.’ (5)
According to the updated guidelines: In the absence of either medical or obstetric complications, 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise a day on most, if not all, days of the week is recommended for pregnant women.
Of course this is based upon being checked by your doctor before to ensure you have no major complications, so ALWAYS do that first, but, the guidelines go on to say that ‘participation in a wide range of recreational activities appears to be safe as long as potential abdominal impact type of activities are avoided. Common sense really….
The key thing is that it is beneficial for both mother and baby:
‘moderate- and high-intensity exercise in normal pregnancies is safe for the developing fetus and clearly has several important benefits. Thus, exercise should be encouraged according to the woman’s preconception physical activity level.’ (5)
So, as long as you are fit and healthy with no complications then exercise dependent on the extent you were exercising pre pregnancy is safe for both mother and baby. Not only that, it is actually beneficial with a statistical drop in rates of C-Section rates associated with it plus contributing to appropriate fetal and maternal weight gain.
Being sensible remains key: if you weren’t physically active before pregnancy then you should seek advice before embarking on exercise, but there appears to be no reason (ex a complication) why you should drop exercise – in fact it appears to be better for you and your baby to continue.
Can it help prevent some other more significant complications?
There has been some research done around gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and hypertension which are all conditions you want to avoid during pregnancy.
Question is, can exercise prevent these (or at least lower the risks?)
When it comes to gestational diabetes the studies have (so far) shown mixed outcomes, however regular exercise should (at least in theory) reduce your risks as ‘multiple studies have shown significantly lower glucose levels on the 24-28 week oral glucose test in physically active women.’ (5)
That being said – once again the research is mixed, so whether or not it is actually preventative may be up for debate – however, it is at least likely to help manage it and wont hurt if done under supervision:
‘The majority of studies using exercise as an intervention to treat gestational diabetes mellitus were successful’ (5) particularly with resistance exercise – where the results showed that women with the condition who exercises regularly were less likely to require insulting during the remainder of their pregnancy.
There is a similar picture with pre eclampsia – where the research is mixed, but, there has been data once again showing that moderate exercise could potentially be helpful.
We also know that moderate exercise is an effective tool against an enemy that you certainly don’t want during pregnancy: chronic inflammation. Done in ‘the right’ way (ie. moderate and not extreme either way – not too much, not too little) on a regular basis it has shown significant benefit in reducing the incidence. Click here for much more on inflammation and here for specifics around exercise and inflammation.
Conclusion: its pretty simple – there remains a lot of confusion and many pregnant women drop their level of activity, but, moderate exercise is beneficial for both fertility and during pregnancy, if you have been assessed and have no complications or medical conditions. Being sensible, avoiding exhaustion but being consistent is key. Continuing what you were doing or starting gently if you haven’t exercised before (under supervision) is best for conceiving and growing a healthy baby. Talk to your doctor and if you can seeking advice from a pre and post natal specialist is great.
How is best to do it?
Early pregnancy in particular is usually an anxious time, you may even fear moving too rigorously will damage the baby! (It won’t!) so we have our resident pre and post natal specialist trainer Natalie Ferris break it down for you. The ‘dos’, the ‘dont’s’ and some things to think about for exercising during pregnancy:
Click here to learn all the tips, tricks and thoughts from pre and post natal trainer Natalie Ferris.
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SKAKKEBAEK N, RAJPERT-DE MEYTS E, JUUL A: Male Reproductive Disorders and Fertility Trends: Influences of Environment and Genetic Susceptibility: Physiological Reviews: 2016 Jan 96(1): 55-97
GASKINS A, WILLIAMS PL, CHAVARRO JE: Maternal physical and sedentary activities in relation to reproductive outcomes following IVF: Reproductive biomedicine online: 2016 Oct: 33(4): 513-521
EVENSON KR, CALHOUN KC, STEINER AZ: Association of physical activity in the past year and immediately after in vitro fertilisation on pregnancy. Fertility and Sterility. 2014 Apr: 101(4): 1047-1054
HINMAN SK, SMITH KB, SETH SMITH M: Exercise in Pregnancy: Sports Health. 2015 Nov: 7(6): 527-531
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.
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