What are the benefits of exercise during pregnancy? Most people focus on the benefits of exercise in pregnancy for the mother - less weight gain, easier delivery, quicker recovery - but recent research indicates that women who exercise during pregnancy may also be benefiting their children.
Researchers have found that working out when pregnant not only helps expectant mums to stay in shape but also increases the fitness levels of unborn babies. Does this matter? According to researchers, it may in fact have profound implications, as women who exercise regularly when pregnant can reduce the chances of their kids becoming obese in later life.
The research was conducted in New Zealand and involved 84 first time mothers - they found that the babies born to those who exercised were, on average, 143 grams lighter than those born to inactive mums. Although they were lighter, researchers found that they were not any shorter in length, and that there was no evidence they adequate lacked nutrition.
This is significant because increased birth weight is associated with an increased risk of obesity for the children, so reducing birth weight can have potentially important long term health benefits for children.
The research involved a group of women who cycled for up to 40 minutes at least five times a week - they were compared with a group who did no exercise at all. Researchers aren't sure exactly how this affects the unborn baby, but believe that aerobic exercise somehow alters the environment in the womb in some way that has an impact on foetal growth, resulting in a reduction in birth weight.
Of course, pregnant women do have to be careful about the exercise they do when pregnant. General guidelines for pre natal exercise include:
- A 10 to 15 minute warm-up - this can help to prevent injuries and avoid adverse affects on the foetal heart rate
- Workouts under one hour, with rest and fluid breaks as necessary
- A 10 to 15 minute cool-down
- Regular exercise (three times a week) is preferable to intermittent exercise
- Adequate breast support (sports bra) is recommended
- Steady aerobic exercise is good. Examples include walking, swimming, stationary cycling or low impact aerobics
- Your heart rate/exertion level should be monitored - it is usually recommended to keep the heart rate below 140 beats per minute, although this varies with age.
- Stay adequately hydrated and avoid excessive heat - dehydration and hyperthermia are two of the biggest dangers for the foetus.
- Avoid exercises that are performed on the back, and those that involve fast movements or the risk of falls.