How to Exercise Safely during Pregnancy

Women can profit substantially from exercise during pregnancy. But exer­cise during pregnancy should be dis­cussed with a woman’s physician. If she was actively engaged in exercise prior to pregnancy, she most likely will be allowed to continue. If she was not physically active and wishes to be­come active during pregnancy, she would be wise to discuss the risks and benefits with her physician. If medical clearance is granted, she should be directed to a trained exercise special­ist who is qualified to prescribe exer­cise during pregnancy.

The American College of Obstetri­cians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has developed the following guidelines for exercise during pregnancy. Pregnant women should:

  1. Engage in aerobic exercise—walk­ing is most often recommended— three times per week.
  2. Reduce the intensity of exercise as pregnancy progresses, and then shift from higher-impact weight-bearing activities such as jogging to lower-impact activities such as walking, and then non-weight-bearing activities such as swim­ming and stationary cycling.
  3. Avoid activities that place a high re­liance on balance.
  4. Avoid exercises performed while lying on the back after the third month of pregnancy. This position encourages a shift in blood supply away from the uterus, which has potential, although unproven, con­sequences for the fetus.
  5. Avoid prolonged motionless stand­ing.
  6. Avoid activities that significantly raise the core maternal body temperature.
  7. Be careful not to dehydrate while exercising.

Special Concerns for Women

Although males and females are physiologically similar in some ways, they have enough differences to affect physical performance. For example, the aerobic capacity of the average fe­male is approximately 20 percent lower than that of the average male. The difference results from the following:

  1. A smaller heart size per unit of body mass
  2. Lower oxygen-carrying capacity be­cause of 10 percent to 15 percent less hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells)
  3. Less muscle mass to supply the power to move their body weight
  4. More inactive fat tissue to move about

Because of their larger muscle mass, the average male is about 30 percent to 40 percent stronger than the aver­age female. Strength is highly and positively correlated with physical performance.

Menstruation represents a signifi­cant difference between males and fe­males. The response to menstruation among females is variable. Some women feel no different than usual, and others may experience abdominal and leg cramping, low-back pain, and mood swings. The female response to menstruation may affect physical performance markedly.

Despite the physiological differ­ences between males and females, the responses to aerobic training are remarkably similar. On a percentage basis, the ability to deliver and extract oxygen is essentially the same in men and women. So too, are benefits such as fat loss, decreased heart rate, and increases in bone density. In addition, exercise training reduces many of the risk factors associated with the chronic diseases that are the leading causes of death in the United States. In summary, regular exercise is as im­portant a lifestyle behavior for women as it is for men.

Filed Under: Health & Personal Care


About the Author: Andrew Reinert is a health care professional who loves to share different tips on health and personal care. He is a regular contributor to MegaHowTo and lives in Canada.

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