Pregnant women should be encouraged to engage in low to moderate levels of exercise during their pregnancy even if they did not exercise before, according to a new review of findings on the topic.
A exercising mother-to-be should be in good health, however, and she should avoid high-intensity exercises.
The research examined evidence from previous studies and concluded that exercise can strengthen and improve overall musculoskeletal and physiologic health as well as pregnancy-related symptoms.
For example, the researchers conclude that exercise can ease back pain and other musculoskeletal pain, lower maternal blood pressure, reduce swelling and improve mood — one study of depressed pregnant women found that exercise helped decrease depression, and another study saw that exercise during pregnancy improves self-esteem.
Recommended exercises include aerobics, resistance training and swimming.
According to the authors, the data shows that the pregnant woman’s body can compensate for the changes with no harm to the fetus during low- to moderate-intensity exercise.
“It is important to remember that pregnancy is a temporary condition, not a disease, and that the musculoskeletal and physiologic changes that happen are normal in the majority of patients,” said Capt. Marlene DeMaio, research director at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia.
However, exercise should only be prescribed for healthy patients after they have had an obstetric evaluation, the authors say.
In the past, some physicians did not recommend exercise during pregnancy. In fact, as recently as the 1990s, there was concern that exercise could be detrimental to a pregnant woman and her fetus.
However, within the last decade many doctors have come to recognize the benefits of exercising while with child. According to the American College of Obstetrician 2002 guidelines for exercise during pregnancy, "In the absence of either medical or obstetric complications, 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise a day on most, if not all, days of the week is recommended for pregnant women."
The new review study also specifically looked at the question of whether or not it is safe to start exercise during pregnancy if one has not exercised previously.
Two reviewed studies showed that women who started exercising under supervision while pregnant were able to improve their fitness "without any alteration in either maternal of fetal well-being," the authors wrote. The findings "suggest that exercise can be started in a woman who had not been exercising before pregnancy, but that the program must be carefully structured," they said.
The researchers also recommend that pregnant women should avoid collision sports and deep-water diving because they may harm the mother, the fetus or the placenta. They also advise that women should transition to "non weight-bearing" exercises, such as cycling and swimming, later in their pregnancy. And women looking to perform strenuous exercise or increase their training from moderate to high intensity, should seek the direction of a qualified doctor.
The article was published in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaeedic Surgeons.
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