Roanoke Times
                 Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: TUESDAY, February 8, 1994                   TAG: 9402080105
SECTION: EXTRA                    PAGE: 1   EDITION: METRO 
SOURCE: Jane Brody
DATELINE:                                 LENGTH: Long


Pregnancy is no longer a period of confinement. About the only thing that is "confined" during pregnancy these days is the unborn child. It is now commonplace to see pregnant women jogging, swimming, walking briskly and even skating and playing tennis, sometimes well into the last third of pregnancy.

Some women exercise after clearing their plans with their physicians, but many others never consult their doctors and instead take it for granted that activities they pursued before pregnancy are safe to continue. Still others are inspired by their pregnancy to start regular exercise.

Some join exercise classes designed for pregnant women and supervised by trained leaders, but most pregnant women exercise in an unsupervised fashion that can result in a choice of activities or intensity of exercise that is potentially harmful to them or their unborn babies.

Contrary to common impressions, there is no evidence that an exercise program during pregnancy shortens or eases labor and delivery, although women who do aerobic activities like jogging, stationary cycling and swimming tend to gain less weight and get back into shape sooner. More important is that exercise makes the nine months of pregnancy easier. It helps to counter common pregnancy-related discomforts like backache, constipation, fatigue, bloating and swelling of the extremities.

By increasing muscle tone, strength and endurance, it can help with the physical stresses of pregnancy, especially carrying extra weight.

"The most consistent benefit of exercise during pregnancy is psychological," states the Melpomene Institute of St. Paul, Minn., which does research on women's health issues. "Regular exercise during pregnancy allows women to have control over their bodies at a time of profound bodily changes. It gives them a chance to relax and helps them maintain a positive self-image."

In general, activities you pursued before pregnancy can be continued, although as the pregnancy progresses the pace should be slowed and sometimes one activity should be modified or replaced by one one more suitable for your new shape and weight.

Contact sports, especially those that could result in abdominal trauma, should be avoided.

Swimming and water aerobics, if the water is neither very warm or cold, are ideal because the water supports your increasing weight and allows you to work out as vigorously in the ninth month as in the third.

However, water skiing, scuba diving and surfing are too risky at any stage of pregnancy, and diving or jumping into the water should be avoided during the last three months. Jogging, brisk walking and tennis (especially doubles) can be continued but at an increasingly moderate pace.

As pregnancy progresses, difficulty maintaining balance makes bicycling, downhill skiing and ice skating riskier than usual. In addition to the danger associated with falls, skiing at high altitudes can unduly compromise a pregnant woman's oxygen supply. A stationary cycle and cross-country skiing are much safer.

After the fourth month, avoid calisthenics that are done lying on your back, as well as full sit-ups, double leg raises and touching your toes with knees straight, which can strain the back. Partial sit-ups with knees bent are far less stressful and good for strengthening abdominal muscles.

If you wish to continue weight-lifting during pregnancy, avoid weights that are so heavy they do not allow normal breathing, and be sure to breathe properly. Holding your breath may diminish blood flow to the uterus.

If you plan to join an exercise class for pregnant women, first observe a session and talk with the instructor and participants to be sure the class is sensibly run by a qualified person.

Dressing properly and drinking enough water or other caffeine-free liquids are especially critical to comfort and safety.

Becoming overheated is a serious risk that may cause birth defects early in pregnancy. Do not overdress; dress in layers, some of which can be removed, and choose exercise clothing that "breathes."

During hot weather, exercise during the coolest part of the day. If you find yourself becoming overheated, modify the intensity of your routine. And, above all, drink a lot of fluids during as well as after your activity. Avoid exercising on a empty stomach.

Be sure to eat enough to gain between 25 and 35 pounds during your pregnancy. This is no time to diet or to exercise to lose weight. Melpomene Institute studies reveal that pregnant runners often shortchange themselves on calories, iron and calcium, all essential to a healthy pregnancy.

Devote at least five minutes at the beginning and end of your exercise session to warm-up and cool-down exercises, especially during pregnancy, when joints become lax and more susceptible to injury.

Never exercise to the point of exhaustion. Stop as soon as you begin to feel fatigued.

Women with certain conditions should not exercise during pregnancy, says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

These include pregnancy-induced hypertension, premature labor during a previous or the current pregnancy, persistent bleeding, incompetent cervix, evidence from a sonogram that the fetus is growing too slowly and premature rupture of the membranes.

Any woman with a chronic medical condition, like cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, should be evaluated first by her physician to see what, if any, kind of exercise is suitable.

If you develop any of these symptoms, stop exercising: breathlessness; dizziness; muscle weakness; nausea; chest pain or tightness; pain in the back, hip or pubic area; vaginal bleeding; leakage of amniotic fluid; difficulty walking; a racing heart while resting; uterine contractions or the loss of fetal movements.

Women who were sedentary before becoming pregnant should start out with very low-intensity activities and build up gradually. Pregnancy is not the time to take up jogging.

Further Information

The staff and researchers at the Melpomene Institute have written a book, "The Bodywise Women," which includes a comprehensive chapter on exercise and pregnancy. The institute has also put together a packet of useful information on exercise and nutrition during pregnancy.

The book ($13.95 plus $2 for shipping and handling) and the packet ($12 plus $2 for shipping and handling) can be ordered from the institute at 1010 University Ave., St. Paul, Minn. 55104.

New York Times

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