Brigham Young University
The Benefits of Exercise during Pregnancy
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states, “in the absence of either medical or obstetric complications, 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise a day on most, if not all, days of the week is recommended for pregnant women” (Women's Health Care Physicians, 2009, line 6 - 8). But, what are the benefits for pregnant women who exercise? This paper explains the mental and physical benefit to mothers as well as the benefits for babies if a women exercises while pregnant.
Synthesized Review of Literature
Benefits to Mother
Delivery Outcomes Labor is a very difficult and painful time for women and many women would love to shorten their labor times. Ghodsi, Asltoghiri, and Hajiloomohajerani (2011) found that women who completed light intensity training three times a week for 30 to 45 minutes had shorter first stage labor times. There was not a large difference however. Women who trained had between 4.18 hours to 6.9 hours of labor whereas non-training women had labor between 4.7 hours and 7.5 hours of labor. There was no difference in second stage labor times. However, with thirty minutes less time in first stage labor, one may presume that a mother would have more energy to complete second stage labor. More research is needed to see if more exercise, such as the amount the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends, will lead to wider differences in labor times. Women that are active are also less likely to have a cesarean section. Price, Amini, and Kappeler found that only 6% of their subjects that were active had cesarean section compared to 32% of the women in their control group (2012, p. 2267) Cesarean sections are invasive and also lead to longer recovery times and thus are a detriment to mothers.
Mental and Physical Benefits There are many benefits to the mental and physical state of the mother, if the mother exercises during pregnancy. Haakstad and Bo (2011) found that not only did women who participated in an exercise program gain less weight during pregnancy but they also had significantly lower weight retention postpartum. This is both a physical benefit, for obvious reasons, and a mental benefit for women who place value on being a certain weight and bouncing back from their pregnancy weight quickly. This study also studied an exercise program that had less than the recommended amount of exercise. This study’s program consisted of aerobic exercise for 60 minutes twice a week. More research is needed to see if the benefits continue with more exercise. Furthermore, Guszkowska, Langwald, and Sempolska compared exercise to relaxation techniques and showed that both resulted in, “the emotional state of pregnant women improve[ing]” (2013, p. 129). However, there were notable differences in the way each variable affected the women. Guszkowska, Langwald, and Sempolska state:
Relaxation caused a distinct decrease of negative emotional states – anxiety and tense arousal and an increase of hedonic tone – while energetic arousal did not increase. In the physical exercise group, the decrease in anxiety and tension was smaller, the increase in pleasure feeling was not as distinctive, but the increase in energetic arousal was more significant …Therefore, physical exercise seems to be less effective in reducing negative emotional states than relaxation sessions, but more successful in increasing positive states. (2013, p.129)
Women that have anxiety and depression benefit more from relaxation techniques because of the decrease in negative emotions but also benefit from exercise as a way of lowering the amount of anxiety and depression they feel while raising their energy levels. Women who feel lethargic and exhausted during pregnancy benefit most from exercise because they feel “a surge of vitality, vigour and vital energy” (Guszkowska,