Exercise is important for pregnant women

Throughout life, the human body undergoes various changes. These may be related to normal growth, aging, or illness. Among the most dramatic changes are those associated with pregnancy. Just as the body changes, the basic requirement of regular exercise also changes. Often the need for activity increases rather than decreases.

Many women do not feel like working out during pregnancy and may use that time as an excuse not to exercise. Studies have shown that regular exercise while pregnant is beneficial to both mother and child.

Dr. Stephen Briggs, an Ob/Gyn on The William W. Backus Hospital Medical Staff, has found that patients involved in a regular exercise program have “more efficient labor.” He defines this as requiring fewer pain medications, having shorter labor, with an overall better delivery.

After checking with your physician, an exercise plan can be implemented with the help of a personal trainer or local gym that sponsors fitness classes for pregnant women. Any program should be specific for the different stages of pregnancy. Contact sports, scuba diving, and vigorous weight training should be avoided. Any sports requiring balance such as skiing, skating, or cycling can lead to falls due to a shifting center of gravity and are also discouraged.

Exercise goals should not be set toward improving overall endurance and the “no pain, no gain” philosophy is the wrong approach. Heart rate, fluid intake, and body temperature should be monitored.

The best fitness program incorporates yoga and pilates-style exercises to improve flexibility. Walking is excellent and can easily be added to a swimming component. The buoyancy of a swimming pool alleviates the strain from additional weight in the last trimester. Regular use of a stationary bicycle is another outstanding way to stay fit.

Following an exercise program, along with proper nutritional requirements, is a great way to work through the life-changing experience of pregnancy. It may also be a good idea to get the coach involved in the program to make it a family affair.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC, in Norwich. E-mail him at aalessi@wwbh.org. If you wish to learn more about healthy sports topics listen to the podcast or go to the Healthy Sports blog at www.backushospital.org.

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