Too Few Women Get Enough Exercise During Pregnancy
According to a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, fewer than 1 in 4 pregnant women meet the physical activity guidelines set by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in 2002. These guidelines state that pregnant women get 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise on most days of the week if they have no medical or obstetric complications.
The study included data collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Over 1,000 pregnant women aged 16 and older were interviewed between 1999 and 2006. The findings were published in the March 2010 issue of the journal Preventive Medicine.
Only about 23% of the women were active enough to meet the guidelines recommendations. Walking was the most common physical activity reported.
According to author Kelly Evenson PhD, research associate professor of epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, women in their first trimester were more likely to reach the exercise guidelines that those more advanced in their pregnancy. Women with health insurance and non-Hispanic whites were more likely to meet the guidelines than other socioeconomic groupings.
The ACOG encourages those who have been cleared by their physicians for participation in physical activity to exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Benefits of becoming and staying active during pregnancy include helping to reduce backaches, constipation, bloating, and swelling; helping to prevent or treat gestational diabetes; increasing energy; improving mood; promoting muscle tone, strength and endurance, and helping improve sleep patterns.
Exercise during pregnancy can help prepare the body to be able to cope with labor and childbirth. Continuing an exercise program after the baby is born can help get you back in shape faster.
Women who were not following a regular exercise program prior to pregnancy, but wishing to do so as a way of improving health, should start slowly and be careful not to over exert. Start at 5 minutes a day and add 5 minutes each week until 30 continuous minutes are achieved. Never exercise to the point of exhaustion or breathlessness. Take frequent breaks, wear appropriate clothing and footwear, and drink plenty of fluids while exercising.
All pregnant women participating in an exercise program should be aware that hormones produced during pregnancy cause the ligaments that support the joints to become relaxed, which makes them more mobile and at a greater risk of injury. Avoid jerky, bouncy, or high-impact motions. Also be aware that the weight gain will shift the body’s center of gravity and may make a woman less stable or more likely to lose balance.
Most forms of exercise are safe during pregnancy. Walking, swimming, stationary cycling, and low-impact aerobics are good choices. Higher-impact sports such as running and strength training can be safe for women who were already participating in these activities before pregnancy. Potentially dangerous activities include downhill snow skiing, gymnastics, horseback riding, contact sports (soccer, basketball), and scuba diving. After the first trimester, avoid doing exercises on the back, like poses performed lying down in yoga.
Warning signs to be on the lookout for are vaginal bleeding, dizziness or feeling faint, increased shortness of breath, chest pain, headache, muscle weakness, calf pain or swelling, uterine contractions, decreased fetal movement, or fluid leaking from the vagina.