When a woman becomes pregnant, she’ll often adopt healthier habits and put the needs of her unborn child first. Studies over the past few years have proven that exercising is good for both the expectant mother and her baby. One of the most promising benefits is that exercise helps strengthen a fetus’ heart control.
But, research released this week shows that exercising during pregnancy also goes a long way to help your child’s heart even after birth. That is welcome news in a society with a large focus on the heart health of school-aged children. Government organizations, school systems and nonprofits are all working to create programs to improve a child’s health. Turns out, the intervention needs to happen sooner—a lot sooner. And the first person who can do something about it is an expectant mom.
The study was done at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences by exercise physiologist and anatomist Linda E. May, who has been investigating fetal heart rate development for the past four years. In 2008, May and her team found pregnant women who exercised at least 30 minutes, three times a week, had fetuses with lower heart rates during the final weeks of development. A lower resting heart rate is a sign of a healthy heart, both in a fetus and in adults.
It turns out that those same babies maintained the improved cardiovascular heart control, which is an indication that an expectant mother’s efforts to stay active have long lasting effects. The women who participated in the study did aerobics, ranging from power walking to running. Some of the participants who were active before their pregnancy kept up with their routines, and also lifted weights and practiced yoga.
Besides heart health, regular exercise during pregnancy can improve your posture and decrease backaches, alleviate some fatigue, reduce stress and build stamina needed for labor.
If you worked out before getting pregnant, keep up with your routine, but don’t expect to work at the same intensity. Listen to your body and take breaks when needed. It is often suggested to choose low-impact aerobics over high impact aerobics, and keep your heart rate at 140 beats per minute or below.
If you are starting your fitness routine for the first time, walking is a great activity and it’s free. You can do it anywhere and fit in short bouts whenever time allows. Aim for 30 minutes, three days a week and slowly build up your frequency (times per week) or duration (time per workout).
Of course, whether you are a beginner or an advanced exerciser, it’s best to talk to your OBGYN, who can give you more specific recommendations, as well as additional precautions to take. By exercising during pregnancy, mothers have the ability to improve their own fitness and set their babies up for a healthier start, too.
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