Many obstetricians and people without medical expertise have been advising pregnant women not to exercise much so as not to cause premature births and harm their or their babies’ health.
But important new research at Haifa’s Rambam Health Care Campus, Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s Sports Medicine Center and the IDF now encourages women in the months before and after delivery to do 150 minutes of medium-intensity aerobic exercise spread over at least three days combined with anaerobic resistance training, even if they had been inactive before pregnancy.
Physical activity is important and essential in pregnant women without contraindications, wrote Prof. Naama Constantini of Shaare Zedek (SZMC), obstetrician Dr. Ido Solt of Rambam and Amit Elbaz Braun of the IDF in the latest issue of Harefuah, the Israel Medical Association journal.
Why should pregnant women exercise?
A major American study quoted in the article showed that fewer than 15% of pregnant women exercise regularly.
Lack of physical activity during pregnancy can lead to excessive weight gain and pregnancy complications, they wrote. The nine months are also a chance to advance a healthful way of life and adopt new habits. Only a woman whose doctor advises her not to exercise because of her individual case needs to avoid such physical activity.
Exercise during pregnancy reduces the risk of pre-eclampsia – a serious condition that can occur after the 20th week or after giving birth that pushes up blood pressure and can cause kidneys and the liver to stop functioning normally. Pre-eclampsia occurs in five to eight percent of pregnancies and in most cases leads to preterm birth.
Such physical exercise – both aerobics that gets the heart pumping and anaerobics that involves short bursts of intense energy and strengthens the muscles, like jumping rope, yoga and Pilates – has been proven not to cause miscarriage, infant hypoglycemia, early breaking of the waters, low birth weight or congenital defects, they wrote. If a pregnant woman exercises regularly, she can recover from delivery faster, reduce the risk of back pain, gestational diabetes and even post-natal depression.
The authors advise pregnant women, however, not to exercise outdoors in hot, very humid weather; riding on an outdoor bicycle or a horse; skiing; playing hockey; diving; or doing gymnastics – especially during the first trimester. They also shouldn’t participate in competitive sports unless permitted by their obstetrician. They should drink plenty of water and eat healthful foods and rest at regular intervals. And, of course, they must not smoke, drink alcohol or take drugs.