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Exercise is Critically Important, Especially During Pregnancy

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This article was written by Chase Cawyer, MD, MBA, an OB/GYN physician in the UAB Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine.

Physical inactivity is among the top five reasons that women die young throughout the world. Therefore, being physically active is recommended throughout your life. It helps maintain heart fitness, reduces the risk of obesity and associated conditions, and contributes to a longer, healthier life.

Women who begin their pregnancy with a lifestyle that includes exercise and good nutrition should continue these healthy habits. For those who have not yet adopted these lifestyle changes, pregnancy is an excellent time to start embracing a healthier routine. Women who participate in regular physical activity during pregnancy have a lower risk of pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes, and an improved mental state.

Women with uncomplicated pregnancies should participate in moderate-intensity aerobic and strength conditioning exercises (i.e. brisk walking) both during and after pregnancy. Health care providers recommend doing so five times per week for at least 30 minutes each time. This may seem like a lot for someone not exercising regularly, so taking a 30-minute walk after lunch or dinner every day is a good place to start. For those already engaged in more vigorous aerobic exercises (i.e. jogging/running), you should continue this, provided that you are in good health and have no pregnancy complications.   

Most exercise routines are fine to continue throughout pregnancy. For elite athletes and those who engage in more extreme sports or activities, adjustments may be needed after consulting with an OB/GYN physician who has experience with this type of athlete. For all women, some sweating during strenuous activity is to be expected. But if you experience new pains, worsening shortness of breath, muscle pain/cramping, fluid leaking, vaginal bleeding, or contractions, immediately stop what you are doing and notify your doctor.

High-Risk Pregnancies

For women with pre-existing medical complications (i.e. high blood pressure, lung disease, diabetes), mild to moderate exercise likely is fine. However, you should speak with an OB/GYN physician who is experienced with more complicated pregnancies before starting a more vigorous exercise routine.

For women who have experienced pregnancy complications (i.e. preterm labor, placenta previa, preeclampsia), aerobic exercise routines can worsen these symptoms and therefore should be avoided unless advised otherwise by your doctor. Despite the fact that many women are placed on bed rest for these complications, it is rarely necessary, and in most cases, a moderate amount of physical activity is beneficial from both a physical and mental health standpoint. Women with these complications should discuss them with a high-risk pregnancy physician, such as a maternal-fetal medicine specialist.

In general, women should look for ways to initiate or continue exercising throughout their pregnancy. If you have specific questions, we as OB/GYN providers are more than happy to discuss your case and help you come up with a plan that works for you and your pregnancy.

Click here for information on UAB Women & Infants Services.