The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists give pregnant women very conservative recommendations for exercise during pregnancy. The general impression is that exercise can be dangerous. Many researchers, however, including Dr. James Clapp, a renowned researcher in the field of exercise during pregnancy, says that a pregnant woman’s body is very similar to an athlete’s and is well prepared for the demands of strenuous exercise.
A pregnant woman has expanded blood volume, larger heart chambers, greater blood volume per heartbeat, and faster transfer of oxygen to tissues. Athletes also exhibit these differences. Fit women are able to adjust to pregnancy faster than women who don’t exercise because their bodies are already half way there.
Pregnancy Exercise Myths
- Exercise should not cause the heart rate to exceed 140 beats per minute.
- Pregnant women should refrain from any supine exercise (lying on the back) after the first trimester.
- Running and bouncing exercises are not safe for the fetus due to the jarring impact.
- Bouncing exercises can weaken the pelvic floor.
- Exercising longer than 20 minutes at a time will overheat the baby and take needed oxygen and nutrients away from the placenta.
- Abdominal exercises of any kind should be avoided after the first trimester.
Benefits to the Mother and Baby
- Reduces aches and pains – Exercise improves posture by strengthening the back and abs. These muscles are absolutely requisite for carrying a 12 + pound tummy comfortably.
- Improves circulation – Improved circulation confers several benefits to a pregnant woman. It can help prevent constipation and prevent cramps common in pregnancy. The improved blood flow can also help to reduce swelling in the legs and the resulting varicose veins.
- Prevents wear and tear on the joints – Exercise helps to stabilize the joints and offset the effect of the pregnancy hormone relaxin which relaxes the ligaments that support the joints.
- Boosts immune system – Dr. Clapp’s research team observed that the incidence of colds, flus, sinusitis, and bronchitis is lower in the pregnant women who exercise.
- Lowers gestational diabetes risk by 27% - Exercise helps to keep blood sugar even.
- Helps your body snap back quicker – Maintaining a high level of fitness helps moms get back to a regular exercise routine faster than non-exercising moms, hence staying toned, and keeping weight in check.
- Reduces mood swings and stress – Exercise boosts serotonin and endorphins which makes us feel happier.
- Reduces fatigue – Pregnant women often feel tired. While sometimes it seems hard to get moving, exercise actually gives the pregnant woman an energy boost. Exercising pregnant women have more energy in general and are more able to tolerate the stresses of pregnancy and care of an infant.
- Improves sleep – Active, pregnant women often report better sleep. However, it is best not to exercise too near to bed time as it can contribute to insomnia.
- Reduces morning sickness – While feeling nauseous can make it difficult to get moving, many women report that they feel less queasy after a workout.
- Keeps weight in check – Cr. Clapp showed that women who exercise all the way through till the end of their pregnancy gain on average 8 lbs less than their sedentary counterparts.
- Improves body image – Being fit helps a woman feel better about herself, especially when her big belly is making her feel a little less than sexy.
- Faster and easier delivery – Having a baby requires strength and stamina. What better way to prepare for this than by being strong and fit. Studies have also shown that pregnant women who exercise need fewer pain killers, probably because their endorphins, which are natural pain killers, are higher.
- Become a better athlete – Clapp found that women who train all the way through their pregnancies “increase their maximum aerobic capacity by 5 to 10 percent.” This is true despite the fact that their pregnancy training levels were actually lower during pregnancy than before pregnancy.
- Smaller babies to birth – Babies of exercising moms are less fat but still as long and robust as heavier babies born to moms who don’t exercise.
- Leaner children – These leaner babies will be leaner all the way up to, at least, their fifth birthday.
- Stronger fetal cardiovascular system – Researchers from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences found that the fetus is more than just a passive observer of mother’s exercise routine. Fetuses of mothers who exercise have stronger hearts much like the exerciser herself does.
- Improved tolerance to the stress of delivery – Studies have shown that babies born to exercising moms experience less stress at the time of delivery.
- Fewer infant problems – The newborns of exercising mothers are reported to have less colic, sleep through the night earlier, and are easier to care for in general.
- The placenta grows faster – This means more nutrients and oxygen for the baby. If no other reason gets you moving, I would think this one should!
There is a whole lot more about exercise in my book!