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Risks and benefits of exercise during pregnancy

Saturday, 25 September 2004

Confusion about risks and benefits of exercise during pregnancy

Women are getting mixed and confusing messages about how much exercise they should be doing during pregnancy, according to sports medicine and rehabilitation consultant Gary Moller.

Mr Moller told the La Leche League Conference in Upper Hutt today that some pregnant women think it is important to take up or increase energetic exercise to contain weight gain and maintain body shape but this may not be wise or safe.

Highly conditioned athletes can continue quite strenuous exercise regimes for most of their pregnancy but sedentary women need to stick to gentle exercise programmes, Mr Moller says.

"It is not wise to increase the volume and intensity of exercise as pregnancy progresses. The opposite should be the rule. Progressively reduce the volume and intensity, as pregnancy progresses, and take time out to put the feet up and relax", is his advice

There is evidence that exercise during pregnancy makes a woman and her developing baby feel better and that exercise decreases the need for obstetric intervention but there is no difference in gestational length, duration of the first stage of labour or birth weight between women who exercise and those who don't, Mr Moller says.

He suggests pregnant women choose rhythmic low impact aerobic activities, drink plenty of water and eat well. He cautions to take it easy when exercising in hot weather and to avoid uneven terrain when top heavy and unable to see one's toes.

"Listen to your body and call it a day if you feel overtired", is his simple advice.

"Women need to understand that pregnancy itself is an extended aerobic workout with the resting heart rate increasing by about 15 beats per minute and the breathing rate increasing as well to meet the growing oxygen need."

During pregnancy, Mr Moller recommends exercise such as brisk walking, pilates, tai chi, yoga, swimming or rowing. And, he adds, pregnancy is a great time to improve flexibility because of the head start that comes with the surge of pregnancy hormones.


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