Regular exercise can help pregnant women improve their health and the health outcomes of their babies, according to a new Canadian guideline for physical activity during pregnancy.
“Up until this point, the focus has all been on proving that those women who want to exercise during pregnancy, it’s actually safe for them and their baby,” Dr. Gregory Davies, who co-wrote the guideline, said in an interview.
“We’ve actually been able to prove that not only is exercise safe in pregnancy, but it actually makes pregnancy outcomes better.”
The guideline was released Thursday. It was developed by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada.
It says women should ensure they spend at least 150 minutes per week in moderate-intensity exercise during pregnancy. The exercise should be spread out over at least three days, although pregnant women are encouraged to get at least a little bit of physical activity every day.
The previous guideline said pregnant women could safely exercise three or four times a week for up to 30 minutes at a time.
Davies, a professor at the medicine school of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., wrote the previous guideline in 2003.
He says the new guideline takes things further by specifying that women who follow the recommendations it lays out are likely to have healthier pregnancies and healthier babies than women who exercise less.
“We broke safety down into many, many different components – risk of miscarriage, risk of premature birth, risk of caesarian section, et cetera,” he said.
“Exercising does not make any of these things worse. By exercising, you can make your health and your baby’s health better.”
Moderate-intensity physical activity can include walking, swimming, stationary cycling and resistance training, as well as some activities that people may typically perceive as more leisurely.
“Things that we don’t think about such as yardwork or gardening – even vacuuming – can be considered moderate-intensity exercise,” said Margie Davenport, a co-lead author of the guideline and associate professor at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport and Recreation.
CSEP says following the guideline can reduce pregnant women’s risk of depression and other pregnancy-related illnesses by 25 per cent and their risk of developing high blood pressure, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes by 40 per cent.
Other benefits of exercise during pregnancy include improved sleep, prevention of excess weight gain and preparing the body for labourand delivery.
Davenport said women whose physical activity levels ebb and flow during pregnancy due to illness or other issues will still accrue some health benefits.
“Doing some activity is much better than not doing any at all,” she said.
The guideline was developed based on reviews of more than 25,000 studies looking at the impact of exercise during pregnancy on health outcomes for mothers and babies.