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Exercising While Pregnant: A Go or a No-No?

Shana Berkeley

February 11, 2008

 

Introduction

Becoming pregnant can be the happiest time in a woman’s life. Over the span of nine months she experiences the growth of a baby inside of her. However, she soon learns the difficulties of pregnancy including pain, and overall bodily changes. There are minimal avenues that address these concerns or that can positively affect the pregnancy. The physical activity recommendation for pregnant women were established in 1980’s and since then experts, doctors and even mothers say that exercising while pregnant is a guaranteed way to maintain a healthy weight and body image. It lowers the risk of pregnancy related diseases and improves your overall experience, mentally and physically. Unsure of the validity of the claim that “exercise is beneficial to pregnant women” I decided to research the benefits of exercise first generally, then specifically to pregnant women. After that I learned of the dangers and benefits that exercising could have during pregnancy and labor and finally I drew an overall conclusion to determine if the myth that “women should exercise while pregnant because it is beneficial” is a true statement or a false assumption.

                                                                                                               

Section One: The Effects Of Exercising

Wikipedia defines physical exercise as a “bodily activity that develops or maintains physical fitness and overall health” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exercise). Physical activity boosts the immune system and said to help prevent diseases. It can also contribute to maintaining a healthy weight and physiological well-being. The Center for Disease Control recommends “thirty minutes or more of moderate physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week to improve the health and well-being of all individuals,” (Brownson, Leet, Petersen, 2005). Although exercising is an activity that everyone should partake of in some way, shape, or form there is variation in the affects that exercise can have on individuals. Exercise is beneficial to your brain because it increases oxygen flow to the brain and produces endorphins. It also releases chemicals that can help a person to feel more peaceful and happy. Because exercising releases natural endorphins a sudden decrease in exercise would cause withdrawal from those endorphins and can create a negative change in mood. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exercise).

Section Two: The Effects Of Exercising While Pregnant

Being pregnant affects the way your body functions including your oxygen levels and energy levels. For many women, the emotional stability they experience is skewd because of the bodily change. For pregnant women, weight gain and reoccurring pain is an everyday experience. However, many websites contend that exercising while pregnant- most notably walking- helps relieve and eliminate many of these pregnancy problems. Exercise for expectant mothers is necessary but the answer to “how much and how often” is open for interpretation. Therefore, the advice given to women about the amount they should exercise is mere recommendation, which should be taken into account but not strictly adhered to. Along with the benefits mentioned above for working out in a general sense there are other benefits to working out for pregnant women. There are three types of exercise: Flexibility, aerobic, and anaerobic. The exercise that is recommended to women that are pregnant is aerobic. Aerobic includes cycling (stationary), walking and light running. These kinds of exercising can help women sleep better and feel better because it gets your heart pumping and improves your breathing. (http://www.kidshealth.org/teen/exercise/sports/exercise_wise.html). “One study has shown that physically fit women who ran or preformed aerobics continually throughout their pregnancy had fewer medical interventions during labor than the controlled group” (Brown, Finch, Robinson, Torode, White).

 

Section Three: Dangers and the Benefits

            In general, too much exercise can be harmful on the body. On average experts say that people should either exercise every other day or three times a week… It has also been noted that expectant mothers should never exercise two days consecutively” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exercise). It is argued that fitness can relieve the “basic discomforts of pregnancy—from morning sickness to constipation to achy legs and back” (http://health.discovery.com/centers/pregnancy/dummies/exercise.html). The Smart Momma website encourages walking while pregnant because along with the previously mentioned benefits it makes it easier to loose pregnancy pounds after delivery. It also encourages women who are pregnant to purchase new walking shoes that provide extra ankle support (http://www.smartmomma.com/fit_healthy/walking/pregnancy.htm). Another article proclaims that exercise creates “shorter less complicated labor, fewer signs of fetal distress, lower frequency fewer caesarian section, quicker recovery, and fewer neonatal complications than inactive women, Attenuation of symptoms such as back pain, nausea, fatigue and constipations” (Brown, 2002). However, as you will soon discover as you continue to read, these claims are said to be false by other studies. When it comes to dangers or risks there are numerous safety precautions that expecting mothers should take. Things such as: avoid overheating or hypothermia because it challenges the maternal thermoregulation (Brown, Finch, Robinson, Torode, White). Also avoid injury due to falls and exercising flat on your back. Lastly, it is recommended that pregnant women avoid weight-bearing exercises and anything that puts you at risk of hurting your abdomen such as “high impact, bouncy exercises” (http://health.discovery.com/centers/pregnancy/dummies/exercise.html).

 

Section Four: The Labor of Love

            Discovery health makes the claim that there is evidence that supports the notion that “regular fitness during labor makes for a shorter labor” (http://health.discovery.com/centers /pregnancy/dummies/exercise.html).  About. Com also agrees with this premise saying that walking (a form of exercise) is “a great way to not only speed labor but make you more comfortable… [Because]  walking can help your pelvis move about more freely and help gravity assist your baby in moving down your pelvis.” (http://pregnancy.about.com/od/laborbasics/ss/laborpositions.htm)  However, most scholarly research disputes this assumption. An article in the Australian Nursing Journal concludes that walking during labor has no effect on delivery based on a U.S. study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  The study conducted included 1067 women at Dallas Hospital. Five hundred and thirty six women were assigned to walk and 78% of them actually did so. They spend an average of an hour on their feet in their first stage of labor taking roughly five hundred and fifty three steps. The remaining ladies (five hundred and fourteen) were asked to stay in bed. They took about thirty steps, a trip to the bathroom. The result was that walking had no effect on the risks of caesareans, length of labor, the health of the new born baby, the needed for pain relievers like oxytocin, length of the first or second stages of labor, the development of chrioamionitis, or the use of analgesia (Anonymous, 1998).

 

Section Five: Real Life Examples

            Many women’s main concern when they become pregnant is the weight gain. Numerous expecting mothers are dissatisfied because they put on significant amount of weight during their pregnancy and fear that they will be unable to loose it post delivery. A study was conducted to learn about seventy one pregnant women’s body image satisfaction. Forty of these women were high exercisers and thirty one were low exercisers. In the end, the high exercisers demonstrated significantly higher levels of body image satisfaction. This is because women who exercise during pregnancy may respond in a favorable manner to changes in their body during early pregnancy in comparison to woman who remains sedentary (Boscaglia, Skouteris, Wertheim, 2003). Another study compared the physical activities of pregnant women to women that are not pregnant. The study was done in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The study included women from 18-44 and answered, “yes” for pregnant and “no” for not pregnant. The population that was sampled was 150,259 women. Of that 6,528 were pregnant and 143,731 were not pregnant. Generally younger than the non-pregnant women, sixty percent of pregnant women’s ages ranged from eighteen to twenty nine. Walking was the most popular type of physical activity among all women from 1994-2000. Fifty two percent were pregnant and forty five percent were not expecting. In the end, the study showed that the pregnant women were performing irregular activity compared to a non-pregnant woman when is not beneficial. On average, all women should be exercising about the same amount. The variation should occur when we consider the types of exercises.

 

 

Conclusion

As we speak my older sister is four months pregnant. As an aunt, I want the best pregnancy and labor for her and the unborn baby. With this in mind, I decided to research the pros and cons of exercising while pregnant. It is said that walking and exercising helps with the labor pains, during pregnancy aches and overall peace of mind. Exercising while pregnant has a lot of the same benefits of exercising even if you are not pregnant which includes better joint mobility and weight management. 

            However, over-exercising could be harmful. Women could pull a muscle or injure themselves. Many groups endorse the theory that exercise is a helpful tool for expectant mothers. It is said to prevent gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), which affects 5% of pregnant women. GDM is a condition in pregnant women who were not previously diagnosed with diabetes exhibit high glucose levels. They need to receive insulin to lower their glucose levels to normal.

And although no one feels it is harmful, many do contend that it has no effect when it comes to the process of pregnancy including the nine-month period, the delivery, and the post side effects. However, in my personal opinion the benefits outweigh the potential risks therefore I believe the saying that “exercise is beneficial to pregnancy.” A good guideline about how long to exercise is given by Brown stating,  “Themeta- analysis concluded that an exercise program comprising any of a variety of exercise modes that is performed an average of 43 minute, three times a week, at a heart rate of up to 144 bpm…” (Brown, 2002). But to add to the research I know that dance is a good way to exercise along with the physical activities mentioned above. In conjunction with physical exercise women should be sure to maintain a well balanced diet, which includes carbohydrates and be sure to stay hydrated by carrying a bottle of water. Happy Pregnancy!

 

           

 

Work Cited

Boscaglia N., Skouteris H., Wertheim E., (2003). Changing in body image satisfaction during pregnancy: a comparison of high exercising and low exercising women. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol, 43 (1), 41-5.

 

Anonymous (1998). Walking during labour has no effect. Australian Nursing Journal, 6 (3), 50.

 

Brownson R, Leet T, Peterson A., (2005). Correlates of Physical Activity among Pregnant Women in the United States. Department of Community Health and Prevention Research Center, School of Public Health.

 

Brown W., (2002). The benefits of physical activity during pregnancy. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 5 (10:37-45.

 

 

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