By Aaron Vaughan, MD
Mission Orthopedics and Asheville Orthopaedics Associates
Regular physical activity during pregnancy has minimal risks and has been shown to benefit most women. Exercise does not cause miscarriage, poor fetal growth, musculoskeletal injury or premature delivery. In fact, physical inactivity and excessive weight gain are all risk factors for maternal obesity and pregnancy complications.
Exercise in pregnancy has been shown to reduce back pain, ease constipation, promote healthy weight gain during pregnancy and reduce postpartum recovery time. It may also decrease the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and cesarean delivery.
The current exercise recommendation for healthy pregnant and postpartum women is at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. This should be spread throughout the week and adjusted as medically indicated. Safe physical activities to participate in during pregnancy include walking, swimming, stationary cycling, low-impact aerobics, modified yoga, modified Pilates, running or jogging, racquet sports and strength training.
Exercises to avoid in pregnancy include contact sports such as ice hockey, soccer, boxing and basketball. Activities with a high risk of falling should also be avoided such as downhill skiing, water skiing, surfing, outdoor cycling, gymnastics and horseback riding. In addition, scuba diving, sky diving, hot yoga and hot Pilates should be avoided.
During exercise, women should pay close attention to proper hydration and calorie intake. High heat and humidity should be avoided, and prolonged exercise should be performed in controlled environmental conditions. In addition, motionless postures during yoga and Pilates should be avoided as they may result in low blood pressure.
Most women with uncomplicated pregnancies should be encouraged to take part in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises before, during and after pregnancy. There are however some contraindications to exercise during pregnancy, so you should have an exam and discussion with your obstetrician before starting any exercise program.
Aaron Vaughan, MD, is the Director of Primary Care Sports with Mission Orthopedics and a non-operative physician with Asheville Orthopaedics Associates.