Jewish World Review March 19, 2003 / 15 Adar II, 5763

BODYLESSONS: Guidelines change for exercise during pregnancy

By Judi Sheppard Missett | Women interested in staying fit throughout their pregnancies have received a boost from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The organization has increased its exercise guidelines to 30 minutes a day of moderate activity. This is encouraging news for active women, but also an important message for inactive women.

No longer viewed as an option during pregnancy, a daily dose of moderate exercise is recommended. Why? Pursuing fitness before and during pregnancy can make pregnancy itself more comfortable. Studies show that women who follow a well-rounded exercise program experience less fatigue, gain less weight and are less likely to suffer from lower-back pain during their pregnancies. Staying fit also helps them deal better with the physical stress of labor and speeds their postpartum recovery.

If you are currently inactive, check with your doctor before you begin a program. Then start slowly with low-intensity activities. Many health clubs and community centers offer exercise classes specifically designed for pregnant women, and this may be a good place to start.

Certain guidelines apply to all pregnant women, regardless of their fitness level. -- Stick with low-impact activities. Increases in estrogen and relaxin can cause ligaments to become more elastic during pregnancy. Likewise, the pelvic region and other joints become more flexible, which is not conducive to jarring or bouncing motions.

-- Don't overheat. Your temperature becomes slightly elevated during pregnancy, making it easy to overheat. This can be dangerous to the fetus. So keep the intensity moderate, and drink plenty of water before, during and after each workout.

-- Use caution when you stretch. While you want to remain flexible, the hormonal changes mentioned above that soften ligaments and affect joint flexibility also increase your risk of overstretching. Stop and hold a stretch as soon as you feel tension. Never stretch to the point of pain.

-- Be aware of your shifting center of gravity. As your baby grows, your center of gravity pushes back over the pelvis. You may have to adjust the range and speed of your movements to maintain your balance during exercise.

-- After your first trimester, avoid doing exercises while lying on your back. A supine position can restrict blood flow to your fetus, as well as your brain.

Stop exercising immediately and contact your doctor if you experience any of the following during exercise:

-- Vaginal bleeding
-- Dizziness
-- Chest pain or unusual pain
-- Unusual shortness of breath
-- Premature labor
-- Fluid leaking from the vagina

Participating in a variety of activities is a great way to stay motivated and decrease your risk of injury. Good exercise choices for pregnant women include walking, prenatal yoga, low-impact dance exercise, resistance training (low-weight/high-repetition) and swimming or water aerobics.

The following exercise is an excellent way to improve balance while strengthening your back, abdominal, hip, and shoulder muscles. This is a great exercise to add to your workout because many women experience low-back pain during pregnancy.

Begin on all fours, with your hands aligned directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. If this position bothers your wrists, make a fist and balance on your knuckles, instead of your palms. Use an exercise mat for a softer surface.

Stretch your spine long from head to tail, but try to keep it ``neutral'' (maintaining the natural spinal curves with no excessive arching, rounding or flattening).

Engage your abdominal muscles, and look down at the floor as you slowly extend your right arm and left leg parallel to the floor. Try not to look up or tuck your chin as you do this.

Reach your arm and leg long in opposite directions as you balance for a few seconds, then switch to the other side. Repeat five to 10 times on each side.

Judi Sheppard Missett is CEO of Jazzercise Inc., an international aerobic-dance instruction company. Comment by clicking here.


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