It starts with the union of a sperm and an egg… and nine or so months later, a baby is born. It sounds simple, doesn’t it?
It’s anything but!
With morning sickness, having to avoid certain foods, the fatigue and weight gain, there’s far more to pregnancy, with multiple factors that need careful consideration at every turn. Some factors have more influence on others, for example, drink alcohol and it can have serious consequences on the health of your unborn child. Other factors, that don’t seem as detrimental, may have as much a profound effect, with the consequences only being realized in the child’s later life. Exercise is one of them; not that which the child does, but when the mother is pregnant.
Research shows the importance of exercise in pregnancy
While the research has been conducted on mice, it’s a good model to reflect that which occurs in humans. Presented at the Experimental Biology annual meeting in April 2019, researchers provided evidence to suggest that offspring born to mice that exercised during pregnancy were far less likely to gain weight despite eating a diet high in fat later in their life (1).
Previous research has shown that obese women, who take part in regular exercise during pregnancy has great benefits for themselves and their metabolic health as well as for the health of their offspring (2), but this research proposes that it has the same profound effect for women who are at a healthy weight. The effect appears to be due to the influence on brown fat.
You may not know it, but there are two types of major fat in the body, the majority of it in adults is white fat, but there is a small amount of brown fat, which we retain from where we were little. Babies and infants have far more brown fat. It’s the fat that is considered to be metabolically active, and it helps with temperature regulation as well as energy generation. It’s this temperature generation, or thermogenic function, that is associated with a lower rate of obesity and metabolic problems.
Healthier children retain more active brown fat into their adult lives. They therefore had a lower risk of diabetes and fatty liver disease as adults as brown fat is known to burn more energy than white fat (3).
As you can see, your level of physical activity not only has an influence on your health and that of your fetus while you are pregnant by easing some of the discomforts of pregnancy and even healing you to prepare your body for labour, the influence carries on well into their adult lives (4,5).
Caution has to be “exercised” when you exercise while pregnant, so here are some guidelines.
Consider this when you exercise while pregnant
- Under most circumstances, exercise during pregnancy, and even recommended. If you were physically active before you became pregnant, unless there are any medical concerns, it is most likely safe to continue with your workout routine during pregnancy, as long as it remains comfortable to do so and you have not been told otherwise by a healthcare professional.
- If you’re new to exercise, start slow and take part in low impact exercises. Speak to your doctor before you begin a new exercise routine.
- Do not use exercise as a weight loss tool during this time. Your body will change during pregnancy, and regular physical activity during this time will likely help you to lose the weight once your baby is born (6).
- The American Pregnancy Association explains that in normal circumstances, you can exercise for 30 minutes on most days, or do as much as you can 3-4 times a week to maintain the benefits (7).
Over and above the lifetime worth of benefits you provide to your offspring when you exercise during pregnancy, here are some of the benefits you can get out of the workouts you do during this time, according to the American Pregnancy Association:
- Reduced pain in the back due to postural improvements through maintenance of muscle tone
- Reduces digestive disturbances like constipation and bloating
- Reduced water retention
- Maintenance of energy levels
- Mood improvements
- Improved sleep
- Improved strength and endurance
Generally, the types of activities you want to avoid are those:
- In which falling is a high risk
- That may cause abdominal contact or trauma
- In which bouncing or extensive jumping are involved
- That require twisting movements at the waist
- Required to be performed in extreme weather temperatures (too hot or too cold)
- That are exhaustive and require long periods of endurance
Should you have any questions about your ability to exercise, or the safety of your fetus when you choose to take part in any particular exercise, your doctor is best consulted. Otherwise, continue to enjoy all of the benefits that exercise brings to your changing body, and know that you are promoting health of your baby, now and into their future.
- Experimental Biology. "Exercise during pregnancy protects offspring from obesity: Mouse study suggests exercise by normal-weight pregnant mothers boosts brown fat, metabolic health of children." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 April 2019.
- Russo, L., et al. Physical Activity Interventions in Pregnancy and Risk of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Obstetrics & Gynecology: March 2015 - Volume 125 - Issue 3 - p 576–582.
- Cohen, P., & Spiegelman, B. Brown and Beige Fat: Molecular Parts of a Thermogenic Machine. Diabetes 2015 Jul; 64(7): 2346-2351.
- Da Silva, S., et al. Leisure-Time Physical Activity in Pregnancy and Maternal-Child Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials and Cohort Studies. Sports Medicine. 2017, 47(2) pp 295–317
- Eclarinal. J., et al. Maternal exercise during pregnancy promotes physical activity in adult offspring. FASEB. 2016.
- Dipietro, L., et al. Benefits of Physical Activity during Pregnancy and Postpartum: An Umbrella Review. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2019, 51(6):1292-1302
- American Pregnancy Association. Exercise During Pregnancy. Pregnancy Wellness. Exercising While Pregnant: Safety, Benefits & Guidelines.