Exercise During Pregnancy Improves Birth Outcomes and Future Health

photo by Mark Shearman from runnersworld.com
photo by Mark Shearman from runnersworld.com

Recently pregnant athletes have been in the news.  From articles in Runner’s World to photos of elite British marathon runner Paula Radcliffe, such as this photo on the right, we are reminded that doctors encourage pregnant women to stay active even into the third trimester.   Now research presents with even more support for moms-to- be to exercise!  Two recent studies show that exercise in the second and third trimesters are not only safe for normal pregnancies but can decrease the risks of gestational diabetes, high weight babies and the need for ceasarean delivery.

In this study performed in Spain, researchers examined 510 healthy pregnant women, and assigned half to normal care, and half to perform moderate resistance and aerobic exercise 50-55 minutes three times a week.  The women that exercised had a 58% decrease in gestational diabetes related outcomes including  high weight babies, and a 34% decrease in unplanned and elective cesareans.

In this second study recently published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers look at markers in the blood as evidence of improved health.  Elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) is associated with a sedentary lifestyle and adverse pregnancy outcomes such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy), and preterm birth.  Even light amount of physical activity in the second trimester had a positive effect on CRP.

Of course most pregnant moms are not elite runners, and are not advised to try something very strenuous for the first time exercising while pregnant.  Because pregnant bodies are now functioning for two, exercise endurance, speed, lung capacity, and energy levels typically decrease.  Instead of focusing on an end goal activity, distance, or event, focus on maintaining a healthy pregnancy all the way to delivery.  Exercise at a level where you can still maintain a conversation, and decrease the intensity appropriately as your pregnancy progresses, for example switching to walk-jogging, or walking from running.  If you are just starting to exercise try something impact-free like walking, pre-natal pilates, or hula hooping.

Women that exercise during pregnancy are more likely to continue to exercise after birth, which means mom sleeps more soundly, and stays healthy, and has more energy to take care of her family when compared to sedentary women.  All pregnant women will benefit from doing some kind of pelvic floor exercise.  Check with your doctor and physical therapist for guidance what other exercise is appropriate for you.  A women’s health physical therapist can provide guidance on safe exercises to perform during and after pregnancy, and also help with any issues such as pelvic, hip, and back pain, incontinence, and perineal massage which decreases the risks of tearing, and need for episiotomy during delivery.

Think you need help?  Call to schedule a free 15 minute consultation 530-362-8181