Most pregnant women don't get enough physical activity throughout the day to prevent excess weight gain, a new study finds.
If a woman gains too much weight during pregnancy, it increases her risk for complications such as preeclampsia (high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine) and for obesity after delivery, and also ups the baby's risk for childhood obesity.
Along with helping control weight, regular physical activity can help reduce back pain, boost energy levels and reduce insomnia.
Many pregnant women have exercise programs, but they tend to focus on physical-activity guidelines of 30 minutes a day. This study, however, found that staying active throughout the day is more beneficial in preventing excess weight gain.
"We were able to show that pregnant women spend 75% of the time they are awake in sedentary behaviours," Christina Campbell, an associate professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University, said in a university news release. "Many of these women met physical-activity guidelines, but just because you meet the guidelines doesn't necessarily mean you're a non-sedentary person."
Active all day
Campbell and her colleagues monitored activity levels and the amount of calories burned by pregnant women. A woman who went for a brisk, 30-minute walk burned about three times the number of calories as when she was at rest.
But the amount of physical activity throughout the day had more impact. For example, a woman who didn't have a specific workout session but was active all day such as a waitress or a mother who has young children and is always on the move – would get more exercise and burn more calories overall than a woman who had an exercise session but was otherwise inactive during the day.
The findings show that it's important for pregnant women to increase their overall daily levels of activity.
"Maybe it means that you make a conscious effort, if you have a desk job, to get up every hour and make a loop around your building for five minutes," Campbell said. "Or maybe you walk to work or make an effort to park farther away or take the stairs. Really just those simple little things that we've been saying all along, but instead we find so many ways to cut corners on being active."
This study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Data and conclusions of studies typically are considered preliminary until they are published.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about exercise during pregnancy.