Exercise and Pregnancy: Is it Safe?
Karla Robinson, MD
Pregnancy is generally a time when a woman will experience many changes, both emotionally and physically. With the growing waistline and extra pounds that come along with a healthy pregnancy, many women experience anxiety about how to keep the weight gain reasonable and prevent the postpartum weight loss struggle after the baby arrives.
Previously, women were often advised that it was safest to avoid any type of exercise during pregnancy. This recommendation has undoubtedly played a role in the rise in the rates of obesity in this country. The African American community is particularly at risk, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 4 out of every 5 African American women are overweight or obese.
A recent report released by the California Department of Public Health reveals that the risk of childbirth related deaths in African American women is nearly four times that of all other racial groups. A major contributing factor for these astonishing rates is felt to be the prevalence of obesity and obesity related health problems in the African American community.
It is now generally accepted that pregnant women barring any medical or pregnancy complications should maintain some level of physical activity during pregnancy. The health benefits of an active lifestyle during pregnancy include weight control, stress reduction, and a decrease in the risk of developing pregnancy related diabetes to name a few. Listed below are some pregnancy exercise tips you may want to consider discussing with your physician.
- Wade in the water. Water exercises like swimming and water aerobics can be excellent full-body workouts promoting both cardiovascular and muscle fitness. It has generally been regarded as safe in pregnancy as the risk of falls and exercise related injury is relatively low. Check out the local parks, community pools, or YMCA for information on group classes. Many have activities specifically for pregnant women.
- Walk it out. Walking can provide an excellent source of safe, aerobic exercise to stay active in pregnancy. Studies show that a brisk walk for at least 30 minutes, 3 to 5 times per week can improve fitness, strength, and endurance and may help to promote an easier labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery period.
- Don’t overdo it. Those that have not had a regular pre-pregnancy fitness routine should not start aggressively exercising to prevent weight gain in pregnancy. Even those who may have previously had a high level of physical activity prior to becoming pregnant may have to modify their regimen intensity a bit. As a general rule, start off slowly in increments of 10-15 minutes, gradually building your exercise tolerance and intensity.
- Keep the tank full. In pregnancy, calorie requirements as well as the risk of dehydration are increased. It is necessary to maintain hydration by drinking plenty of fluids prior to, during, and after exercising. Eating regular meals is also essential as exercise can lead to a drop in blood sugar levels causing dizziness, shakiness, or faint feelings.
- Make the calories count. A healthy pregnancy should not only include some level of physical activity, but it should also include a balanced diet. Always discuss your target weight gain in pregnancy with your physician. It is generally based on your pre-pregnancy weight and health. Often times you can request the help of a nutritionist to assist you in mealtime decision making and planning to ensure you stay on target.
Prior to beginning an exercise routine in pregnancy, talk to your doctor and discuss a safe regimen for you and your developing baby. During pregnancy, maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle inclusive of approved exercise regimens just may be one of the best gifts you can give yourself and your growing family.