Is it safe to workout during pregnancy? Should you continue with an intense exercise routine even if your grandmother tells you to take it easy? There is a lot of confusion surrounding this hot topic. Hear from our fit mom expert, Allison, and learn about new fit pregnancy guidelines.
I began receiving unsolicited pregnancy advice well before we were actually pregnant. In fact, this time last year I was basking in the glory of a podium finish from my first attempt at a half-Ironman triathlon with comments like “you better enjoy this now before you have kids” or “you won’t be able to train like this when you become a mommy!” Now that we are in fact pregnant, the floodgates of advice are open and overflowing. Although well-intentioned, it is actually quite dangerous to a mother and her growing baby to recommend against maintaining a physically active lifestyle while pregnant. Historically, starting an exercise program while pregnant was not recommended simply because we did have enough evidence-based practices to relate back to real-life prescriptions of health, however that is no longer the case and evidence for maintaining as well as starting an exercise program while pregnant are both true and vital to the health of mother and baby.
This year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) revised their guidelines for exercise during pregnancy. I had the honor of hearing these updates in person from the man who wrote them: Dr. Raul Artal of the St. Louis University School of Medicine. Dr. Artal has helped mold these guidelines over the course of several decades as more research has emerged to help answer the many questions still surrounding healthy (or why some are not healthy) pregnancies. Dr. Artal first presented a historical perspective of exercise and pregnancy and, in summary, the overview highlighted the very limited knowledge from which we had to work and develop best practices for expectant mothers. Hence, many of the commonly held beliefs from two decades ago are now proven correct or incorrect and the research community is moving forward with recommending best practices for OB-GYN workers and prenatal care providers.
So, what are some of these revised guidelines? Perhaps the most drastic change and important recommendation to come from these revised guidelines is that all pregnant women who are cleared by their doctors to do so should exercise most if not all days of the week for at least 30 minutes each day. Notice nowhere in this recommendation is it stipulated that this is limited to “previously active women” or “recreational/amateur athletes”. Provided they receive permission from their medical care providers to participate in physical activity, all women are recommended to be active most if not all days of the week. There are several reasons behind this recommendation update. First, many women do not regularly visit a physician or medical professional unless they are pregnant, so really there is no better time to begin a workout program than when you are being regularly evaluated and checked by a medical professional. Also, with climbing national adult obesity rates, it is in best health interest for both the mother and the baby that overweight and obese mothers do their best to manage their weight, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure (among other things) while they are pregnant to avoid complications. After all, children of obese parents are twice as likely to grow up into overweight children and obese adults. Why not do everything you can to try and improve your health if it may ultimately help improve the health of your child?
The second important update which is more a clarification than a drastic overhaul is that previously active mothers should not only continue to be active but also try to maintain similar levels of activity throughout their pregnancies. Dr. James Clapp III first published his book Exercising Through Your Pregnancy in 2002 and even then he/we knew the benefits of active women continuing their activity through pregnancy and baby arrival, but now we know more information highlighting the benefits of exercise during pregnancy as opposed to the many myths surrounding it. For instance, historically it was thought that jogging/running during pregnancy was dangerous due to increased levels of the hormone relaxin released in the bloodstream during pregnancy to ready the body for pregnancy-related changes. Research has demonstrated that not only is jogging/running a safe activity during pregnancy but as a weight-bearing activity it is also highly beneficial in preparing the body for increased load later in the pregnancy as the baby grows and weight distribution changes drastically. Other weight-bearing exercises like dumbbell and barbell weight training as well as group exercise classes and walking are also highly beneficial for readying the body for increased load on the spine and the joints.
So, as more “good news” continues to surface on the benefits of exercise and pregnancy, know that this is truly the ideal time to make positive lifestyle changes including adding exercise to your routine. What better reason to join the gym or buy those new athletic shoes than to say you’re really working out for two!
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