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Although the safety of exercise during pregnancy has been questioned, nearly all research over the past 20 years shows few risks for healthy women. However, each woman should consult her physician about the safety of exercise, for each pregnancy is different. In addition to the general benefits of exercise, a pregnant woman also may benefit from better control of weight gain, less fatigue, and possibly shorter labor. Researchers continue to examine whether babies born to active mothers differ from those born to sedentary mothers, but the data are not clear. No evidence suggests exercise during pregnancy disadvantages offspring.
Symbol General Guidelines
ACSM and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) state that most healthy pregnant women would benefit from at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most, if not all, days of the week.
Most women who were active before pregnancy can, and should, continue to exercise. The type and intensity of exercise should be based on previous history, health, and comfort. Early in a pregnancy, many women can continue to train at moderate, even vigorous, intensities. As the pregnancy continues, exercise intensity usually decreases naturally, and the type, duration, and intensity of exercise are sometimes modified with comfort and safety in mind. Following are important safety concerns when exercising during pregnancy:
- Take steps to avoid heat injury.
- Limit the possibility of falling and impact injury.
- Avoid extremes in barometric pressure (avoid both scuba diving and exercise at altitudes of more than 6,000 ft).
- Avoid exercise for extended periods in a supine position after the first trimester.
Previously sedentary women who want to begin exercise during pregnancy should consult their physicians. Generally, these women can safely engage in low-intensity exercise. Walking is typically recommended. Short distances and moderate speeds are recommended in these situations.
Symbol High-risk Pregnancies
Generally women who have high-risk pregnancies should avoid exercise. This includes women with pregnancy-induced hypertension, poorly controlled type 1 diabetes, and women experiencing persistent second or third trimester bleeding. Women with cardiovascular, pulmonary, or metabolic disease should be monitored by physicians during pregnancy.
Every woman who exercises while pregnant should monitor her body's reaction for unusual symptoms. The following are signs which signal that she should stop exercise and consult with her physician: vaginal bleeding or loss of amniotic fluid, unusual shortness of breath, dizziness or severe headaches, chest pain, muscle weakness, or painful uterine contractions. These are very rare occurrences, and women with healthy pregnancies can typically exercise without these, or other, complications.
A helpful screening tool can be found online for the safety of exercise during pregnancy, and was developed by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (www.csep.ca). In addition, ACOG has excellent information available (www.acog.org). Regular physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. For the majority of women, pregnancy does not prevent them from living an active life.