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Fit Pregnancy: Why You Should Work Out During Pregnancy

written by: Angela Atkinson • edited by: KJ Fitness,Ink • updated: 4/21/2009

You know you should stay active during your pregnancy, but do you know why? Learn what doctors say about exercise during pregnancy.

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    Image Credit: sxc.hu
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    Gone are the stereotypes of barefoot pregnant women sitting around eating bonbons. Today, we know better. Years of research has proven that exercise during pregnancy can be beneficial to both mother and baby.

    In fact, a recent study completed by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research determined that women who gained over 40 pounds during their pregnancies were twice as likely to experience pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes. The study found that their babies were more likely to be overly heavy at birth, and these women had more trouble losing weight after the pregnancy.

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    Benefits for Mom

    Weight management is just one of the many benefits of exercise during pregnancy. According to Dr. Neva Phair, an OBGYN at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Boulder, Colorado, "Exercise is good because it decreases many of the side effects of pregnancy.”

    Working out can help to relieve digestive issues often experienced by pregnant women, including constipation, bloating and swelling. Other common physical symptoms such as backaches and posture problems can be reduced or eliminated by regular exercise.

    Since exercise also maintains and improves muscle tone, moms who work out during pregnancy are more likely to have a smoother delivery and recovery time. Plus, exercise can help pregnant women sleep better and even improve their overall moods.

    And according to Dr. Neva Phair, "You can decrease the risk of gestational diabetes by exercising, because it causes the body to be more efficient in how it responds to insulin and use of sugar.”

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    Benefits for Baby

    Mom’s not the only one who wins when she works out. According to Dr. James Clapp, author of the book Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, "babies of women who exercise during pregnancy tolerate the stress of contractions better than the babies of women who stopped exercising during their pregnancies. These babies also seemed more mature at birth, with superior abilities to self-soothe and be more alert."

    A recent study completed by a group of Kansas doctors, led by Dr. Linda May, takes Dr. Clapp’s research one step further. The study found that fetuses of moms who exercised during pregnancy had lower heart rates, which seemed to ensure their viability. Moms who didn’t exercise consistently had babies with slightly elevated heart rates, regardless of fetal age or even activity level.

    “This study suggests that a mother who exercises may not only be imparting health benefits to her own heart, but to her developing baby’s heart as well. As a result of this pilot study, we plan to continue the study to include more pregnant women,” Dr. May said.

    And, according to Dr. Clapp, "While we don't know definitely the reason for these findings, there is ample evidence to conclude that maternal exercise impacts the fetus in positive ways."

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    Friendly Warning

    Women who are active before pregnancy are less likely to experience complications from exercise during pregnancy. Before beginning any exercise regimen, especially during pregnancy, be sure to check with your doctor. While exercise can be safe for most pregnant women, health concerns or pregnancy complications can cause it to be detrimental to you or your baby.