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Weight-Bearing Exercise Throughout Pregnancy Boosts Heart Health

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

We know that exercise throughout life boosts heart health. Many women stop exercising during pregnancy. According to the results of a new study, weight-bearing exercise throughout pregnancy can help women maintain cardiovascular health long-term.

According the results of a study published in the November 2008 issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology…"the specific long-term effects of continuing regular weight-bearing exercise during pregnancy are unknown." James F. Clapp III, MD, from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio investigated women before, during and 1 year after pregnancy, beginning 18 to 20 years ago.

A follow-up study was then conducted of 39 women at the General Clinical Research Center at the University of Vermont, examining the women's cardiovascular risk profile. Comparing women who stopped exercise during pregnancy, the study showed that women who continued, had better overall heart health, gained less weight, and experienced a higher level of overall fitness. Women who exercised during pregnancy were also more prone to increase exercise over time, and continue on a regular basis. Previous studies have not supported the long-term benefits of heart health in women from exercise during pregnancy.

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All of the 39 women exercised regularly. Nineteen of them either stopped or limited the amount of exercise they performed before their twelfth week of pregnancy, but started again after delivery. The women's heart function was measured before, during and after pregnancy.

Maintaining heart health can be difficult for women before and after menopause. The risk of heart disease increases as estrogen levels decline. The study group included in Dr. Clapp's analysis performed vigorous exercise, and continued long-term. Exercises included cross country skiing, running and aerobics.

Dr. Clapp writes, "Women who continue weight-bearing exercise during pregnancy maintain their long-term fitness and have a low cardiovascular risk profile in the perimenopausal period." This is the first study that shows women can maintain heart health long-term, by continuing weight-bearing exercise throughout pregnancy.

Long-term outcome after exercising throughout pregnancy: fitness and cardiovascular risk