These days it is generally accepted that ‘light to moderate intensity exercise’ is not only safe, but beneficial for most pregnant women. Benefits include a reduction in back pain, bloating, swelling and gestational diabetes and an improvement in sleep, weight control and mental wellbeing.
Despite this only 2 thirds of pregnant women participate in physical activity during their pregnancy. Of those that do stay active, 83% choose just walking. Some may add a little prenatal yoga or swimming. Only 10% of active pregnant women engage in any resistance training. Much of this is to do with fear – not knowing what the possible risks are to their baby. However, it is also probably due to the fact that they don’t know how good a little resistance training could be for their body and their unborn bub. Therefore they wouldn’t even think of trying it.
Fortunately more and more research is being done that allays our fears about potential risks and consolidates our knowledge of the many health benefits. As this knowledge becomes more widespread we will hopefully see a greater participation of mums to be in resistance training.
A recent study by Dr White et al, Dept of Health, Exercise and Rehabilitation, Winona State University, is one of many that has illustrated the positive effects of exercise and more specifically, resistance training in pregnancy. The results of the study have been published in The Journal of Physical Activity and Health 2014.
This study compared a group non-exercising pregnant women, with a group of pregnant women who exercised for 30 minutes 3 per week, including a mixture of aerobic and resistance training, using lighter weights and higher reps with machines, dumbbells and exercise bands, for muscular endurance.
The results of this study showed aerobic exercise PLUS resistance training resulted in:
1. A healthier BMI (body mass index). Keeping weight gain within a healthy range puts less pressure on the body and helps prevent aches and pains, as well as more serious conditions.
2. Lower rates of gestational diabetes. Not only does the presentation of gestational diabetes often lead to a more complicated birth, it also increases the mother’s likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes later in life by two-fold – and in earlier years.
3. Reduced rates of hypertensive disorders. High blood pressure during pregnancy can be very dangerous and greatly complicate a pregnancy and birth, as well as limit daily life activities and is best avoided if possible.
4. Birth weight of babies was slightly higher. It is often claimed that exercising during pregnancy causes lower birth weights because mum is trying to ‘stay slim’. This study actually negates that claim altogether.
This study was based on a moderate level of exercise frequency, intensity and duration. It is does not offer any information regarding expectant mums exercising at a more ‘athletic’ level. It also recognised that medical clearance should always be sought before beginning to exercise in pregnancy and that individuals differ and circumstances can change at any time.
It is emphasised that the safety of mum and her unborn bub should always be put first, as the optimal health of these two is the very motivation for exercising in the first place.