The Home Body
a total-body prenatal program you can do without leaving the house
Staying active during pregnancy came naturally for Lisa Rainsberger, 37, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based elite athlete who has won five marathons. “I can’t imagine not exercising — it’s an essential part of who I am and what I do,” she says.
Although Rainsberger chose not to race competitively during her nine months, she either ran or swam vigorously for 45 minutes a day until her seventh month. At that point, she modified her regimen slightly by substituting power walking for running. “I gave up the running because the bouncing put pressure on my bladder, which made me need to pee all the time,” she says. “I found I didn’t have to make as many bathroom stops with the walking.”
Rainsberger thinks her pregnancy went smoothly thanks to her exercise regimen, which also included twice-weekly strength-training sessions. “I had heard all these horror stories about how you get varicose veins, swollen ankles and hemorrhoids,” she says. “But I experienced none of those. I’m pretty sure it was because I kept in such good shape.”
Rainsberger’s hunch is probably right: According to a slew of new research, keeping active during pregnancy isn’t just safe — it bestows important benefits.
For starters, one study of 346 women done by researchers from the Columbia University School of Public Health in New York City suggests that exercise may help prevent miscarrying a healthy fetus.
Other recent data, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that women who did moderate to high amounts of exercise while pregnant had almost half the risk of pre-term delivery compared with nonexercisers; they also had a significantly lower risk of delivering after their due date. (Both early and late delivery can pose dangers to the fetus.) “We don’t know why exercise helps women have timely deliveries, but there must be something about being in good physical condition that helps establish appropriate conditions for labor to occur at the correct time,” says lead researcher Maureen C. Hatch, Ph.D., associate professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
Yet another new study, from researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle, found that pregnant women who exercised vigorously for two or more hours a week had a decreased risk of delivering overly large babies. (High-birth-weight babies are difficult and sometimes dangerous to deliver vaginally and as a result must frequently be delivered by Cesarean section.)
As if those benefits weren’t enough, other research suggests that if you stay active, you may reap many other rewards as well: