1 Major Myth About Pregnancy Exercise Just Got Busted

pregnancy exercise
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Doctors have recommended that pregnant women exercise regularly for a while now (in contrast to the old days when women were supposed to lie around with their feet up all day, not raising their arms over their heads). But here's something you might not know: While the prevailing belief used to be that pregnancy wasn't a safe time to start exercising if you weren't active already, new evidence shows that the opposite is true. Pregnancy is actually a great opportunity to introduce physical activity -- even for women who weren't exercising regularly before they got pregnant.

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According to Alejandro Lucia, a professor of exercise physiology at the European University of Madrid who published his viewpoint in the Journal of the American Medical Association, not only are there clear health benefits to starting an exercise routine while pregnant, but pregnancy can also be a time when women are more open to making positive lifestyle changes. 

"Within reason, with adequate cautions, it's important for [everyone] to get over this fear," Lucia said of the old assumptions about exercise hurting unborn babies.

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Research has shown that, in addition to helping prevent excess weight gain (which can lead to complications), exercise during pregnancy might also lower the likelihood of a cesarean section, as well as maternal hypertension and breathing problems in newborns. Then, of course, there are all the regular, non-pregnancy-specific benefits of exercise, like improved cardiovascular and muscular health. So the fact that expectant moms now have a green light to work out regardless of their pre-pregnancy fitness habits is pretty great news -- and could help to make countless moms and babies a lot healthier overall. 

Another myth dispelled by recent findings: Women with chronic high blood pressure or gestational diabetes -- as well as women who are overweight or obese -- can still exercise while pregnant (and they should!).

Of course, there are still important guidelines to keep in mind when it comes to exercise during pregnancy. Moms who weren't already on the move are advised to slowly work up to the amount of activity recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG): 20 to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise on most days. 

The idea is to get your heart rate up while still being able to carry on a conversation. A workout that's too intense can lead to dehydration and divert blood flow from the placenta to the muscles. That's why the ACOG cautions pregnant women to avoid exercise that makes your heart pump at 90 percent or more of its maximum beats per minute.

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There are some other cautions to be aware of, too, whether you're a regular gym-goer or not: The ACOG says pregnant women should stay away from long distance running and lifting heavy weights. Contact sports, hot yoga, and exercises that require you to lie on your back in the second trimester are also to be avoided.

Finally, there are certain conditions which could make exercise dangerous for pregnant women, including persistent bleeding, significant heart disease, severe anemia, and the risk of premature labor. 

Basically, it all boils down to this: For most pregnant women, the right kind of exercise is perfectly safe -- and good for you and your baby. Just be sure to discuss your workout plan with your doctor before you get started!

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