Exercise during pregnancy: safe and beneficial

Exercise during pregnancy: safe and beneficial

Women are encouraged to continue exercise, including strength training, during pregnancy, said an expert at the American College of Sports Medicine's 12th-annual Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition.

James Pivarnik, Ph.D., FACSM, says that hundreds of studies have shown physical activity to be not only safe, but beneficial, for expectant mothers. Exercise can help keep pregnancy weight gain in check, prevent gestational diabetes and pregnancy-induced hypertension, and possibly reduce length of labor. However, Pivarnik says, pregnant women should strive to simply maintain fitness level.

"Women who are expecting shouldn't try to overexert themselves to reach a peak fitness level or train for athletic competition," he said. "But a mother can certainly preserve much of her fitness level throughout pregnancy with moderate, frequent exercise, without risk to her or her fetus."

The same is true with strength training, Pivarnik says, which has also been shown to have little to no ill health effects for pregnant women. He recommends modifying a resistance training program to include more repetitions at a lower weight, taking longer breaks than normal between sets, and making sure breathing is maintained throughout repetitions.

Pivarnik stressed, though, that all pregnancies and corresponding exercise programs should be monitored by a health professional.

"Every woman and every pregnancy is different," he said. "Although exercise is generally a good thing for expectant mothers, a healthcare provider should still be consulted to ensure safety and help tailor an exercise program for that specific woman based on her needs and potential barriers."

Pregnant women should not ignore warning signs if they occur during exercise, such as vaginal bleeding, cramping, excessive nausea, lightheadedness, or extreme headaches, and should immediately consult their physician if these problems arise. Activities that increase chances of blunt force trauma, such as water skiing, should be avoided, as should overheating during exercise.

But what about exercise after giving birth? Pivarnik says this largely depends on the level of activity done while pregnant, and the intensity of labor. If a mother was highly active during pregnancy, it is likely she can resume the same level of activity post-partum without much delay. Pivarnik also noted that continuing the same level of exercise postpartum may not be sufficient to promote significant weight loss, particularly if weight gained during pregnancy was substantial. A caloric reduction may be necessary as well to lose baby weight gain.

The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 20,000 International, National and Regional members are dedicated to promoting and integrating scientific research, education and practical applications of sports medicine and exercise science to maintain and enhance physical performance, fitness, health and quality of life.

American College of Sports Medicine

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