A Woman’s Perspective: Many Benefits to Exercising While Pregnant

A Woman’s Perspective: Many Benefits to Exercising While Pregnant
In the early 1990s, while still in residency and working at Case Western Reserve’s MetroHealth Medical Center’s ob/gyn department, I participated in research focused on the pros and cons of exercise during pregnancy. I ran on a treadmill in each of my two pregnancies, measuring by trimester key variables such as temperature regulation, glucose metabolism and oxygen extraction. When I delivered my babies (both beautiful girls, by the way) each was measured for a number of things, including body fat percent.

This early research at my medical school alma mater helped to show just how safe it is to exercise while pregnant, and it revealed some of the benefits of maintaining an exercise program during pregnancy. There has been a lot of research since on exercise during pregnancy. Most agree it helps limit weight gain; lessens physical discomfort; creates more energy; makes for easier, shorter, less-complicated labors; and quicker recovery.

If complications don’t limit your ability to exercise while you’re expecting, working out is a big plus for both you and your baby.

Here are some key points pregnant women should know about exercising while expecting:

• If you’re able to exercise in the first trimester of pregnancy, you are helping to determine placental size and setting an exercise base for the entire pregnancy.

• A woman extracts oxygen much more efficiently when pregnant and dissipates heat at a lower core temperature, thus avoiding overheating during exercise.

• If you’re able to exercise throughout pregnancy, you and the baby get leaner and this may contribute to helping your child stay lean in life.

• There is a net training effect if you’re able to stick with exercising through the 40 weeks of gestation.

• For all athletes, perceived exertion — not heart rate — is the touch stone, as each of us has a different maximum heart rate depending on age and fitness.

• Athletes in pregnancy are more careful about their changing bodies and they have fewer injuries while pregnant.

Two books worth reading that dispels generations of old wives’ tales about exercise and pregnancy are “Fit & Healthy Pregnancy” by running coach Kristina Pinto and triathlete and doctor Rachel Kramer (Velo Press, 2013) and “How to Exercise When You’re Expecting” by Lindsey Brin (Plume, 2011).

In summary, most women benefit greatly from exercising throughout their pregnancy but you should discuss your exercise plans with your health-care provider early and make a few adjustments to your normal exercise routine. The level of exercise recommended will depend in part on your level of pre-pregnancy fitness.

If complications don’t limit your ability to exercise while you’re expecting, working out is a big plus for both you and your baby. Initially in my experience, you either need to cut the time at which you exercise at high intensity or decrease the intensity and continue for as long as you usually do. Over time, with the net training effect from pregnancy (you get in better shape as you progress in pregnancy as it takes more work to do the same exercise), you will be able to add back either the intensity or the duration. Listen to your body.

Always talk to your provider before beginning any exercise program. Once you’re ready to get going:

• Start gradually. Even five minutes a day is a good start if you’ve been inactive. Add five minutes each week until you reach 60 minutes.

• Dress comfortably in loose-fitting clothes and wear a supportive bra.

• Drink plenty of water to avoid overheating and dehydration.

• Skip your exercises if you’re sick.

• Opt for a walk in an air-conditioned mall on hot, humid days.

• Above all, listen to your body.

To read the original article for the Marin Independent Journal, click here.

The Marin Independent Journal welcomed Dr. Lizellen La Follette as their health columnist from 2015-2018. Her A Woman’s Perspective column appeared every fourth week in the Journal during these 3 years.

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La Follette OB-GYN and Aesthetics offers women’s comprehensive obstetric and gynecological care including high-risk prenatal care, well women care exams with STD testing and birth control choices, as well as minimally invasive surgeries and popular non-invasive lasers such as MonaLisa Touch, SculpSure, and Icon.

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