Is it safe to exercise when pregnant?

Not my wife (Image by seandreilinger)

Not my wife (Image by seandreilinger)

The short answer  is yes – it is absolutely safe to exercise while pregnant.  It is also very beneficial.  There are a few situations that you want to avoid (e.g. maximal exercise, overheating, etc), although I can’t imagine many pregnant women choosing to engage in those types of exercise anyway.

These and other topics are discussed today in the latest installment of the Obesity Panacea podcast.  This time I am joined by my friend and colleague Dr Zach Ferraro.  Zach’s research interests include physical activity and weight management during pregnancy.  The impetus for this podcast was the fact that my wife is pregnant (!!!) with our first baby, and we were both curious about how physically active she could/should be while pregnant.  In the podcast Zach and I talk about some of the questions that Daun and I had, the types of activities that are recommended for pregnant women, and also how to recognize if you’re doing too much.

Daun and I have always been very physically active (we met on a varsity cross country team), she even moreso than me.  She’s cycled across Canada, can portage a canoe solo (I find this far more impressive than she does), etc. So it was really important for us to know what types of exercise are safe/potentially unsafe for a pregnant woman.  On that note, I’d like to remind people that  Zach is not a physician, so he was only able to give general info, rather than specific info for Daun (which I imagine will also make the podcast more useful for others).

Let me be the first to point out the irony of 2 men discussing pregnancy – my wife had hoped to join us for the podcast, but wasn’t feeling well the night that we did the podcast (we did the podcast at the end of the first trimester, during what was probably the worst week of the whole pregnancy… we’re now into the 3rd trimester and she is feeling much better). But many of the topics we discuss were ones that she had asked us to include in the podcast.

Watching my wife engage in different types of physical activity during the past 6 months has really driven home how hard it is to be physically active while pregnant!  Daun has had to make a concerted effort to remain active while pregnant, and there have been several times when she just hasn’t been up to it.  And she is someone who loves to be physically active.  Zach mentions frequently in our podcast that pregnancy is a great opportunity for a woman to adopt a healthy lifestyle, but after seeing what it’s like (albeit second-hand), I think it would be very difficult for anyone to improve their lifestyle while pregnant (although I think it’s worth trying!). I know how much Daun loves being physically active, so if it has been challenging for her, I can only imagine what it would be like for someone who doesn’t enjoy it in the first place (or who has other barriers to overcome with respect to physical activity).

You can find out more about Zach and his recent publications on his website.  You can also find him on Twitter @DrFerraro.  Three of his papers that might be especially relevant can be found below.

An assessment of patient information channels and knowledge of physical activity and nutrition during pregnancy

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2 Responses to Is it safe to exercise when pregnant?

  1. Pingback: Exercise is safe during pregnancy, but not enough docs know that. | Today Health Channel

  2. Mary S says:

    Thank you for bringing up this topic! As an exercise physiologist and marathoner, the first thing I did when I found out I was pregnant was dive into the (little) research on exercise and pregnancy. At my first doctors appointment, the nurse told me to keep my HR below 140bpm-yea right. Knowing what I did about the guidelines (and lack of evidence for the 140 guideline) and what my body could handle, I continued with my normal exercise routine. I was able to run until about 34 weeks and right now at 39 weeks, I’m swimming, walking, and using the elliptical quite vigorously without problems. I think there are two issues 1) medical doctors are generally not well educated about exercise and 2) my bet is that it is not common for OBs to see patients that participate in a lot of moderate to vigorous exercise and as a result they do not have much advice to give. Thanks again for putting this topic front and center and best of luck to you and your wife!