New Canadian guidelines for maintaining a healthy fitness level throughout pregnancy are cutting to the chase: women who engage in regular exercise during pregnancy will go on to have healthier pregnancies and healthier babies than women who exercise less.
Developed by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, the 2019 guideline was based on reviews of more than 25,000 studies on the impact of exercise during pregnancy and health outcomes for mothers and babies.
Last updated in 2003, the large majority of the guideline's focus had historically been on reassuring women that exercise during pregnancy was indeed safe. However, the updated guideline takes it a step further, according to co-author, Dr. Gregory Davies.
"We’ve actually been able to prove that not only is exercise safe in pregnancy, but it actually makes pregnancy outcomes better," he said.
While previous guidelines stated that pregnant women could safely exercise three or four times a week for up to 30 minutes, the 2019 update suggests that they should spend at least 150 minutes per week taking part in "moderate intensity" exercise. Moderate intensity includes anything from walking, swimming, stationary cycling and resistance training. According to Margie Davenport, a co-lead author of the guideline and associate professor at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport and Recreation, it can even refer to things that most of us don't consider as exercise at all.
"Things that we don’t think about such as yardwork or gardening – even vacuuming – can be considered moderate-intensity exercise,” she said.
Davies, who also wrote the previous guideline, says the myth that exercise during pregnancy can result in a higher risk of negative outcomes - such as miscarriage, premature birth and cesarian section - is false.
"Exercising does not make any of these things worse," he said. "By exercising, you can make your health and your baby’s health better."
Following these new guidelines can have immensely positive outcomes for women - both physically and mentally - according to CSEP. Not only can it reduce pregnant women's risk of depression by 25 per cent, but it also reduces their risk of developing high blood pressure, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes by a staggering 40 per cent.
It doesn't stop there.
Other benefits include improved sleep, reduced weight gain and a body that is well-prepared and optimized for labour and delivery.
If 150 minutes of exercise per week doesn't seem doable, don't worry. Davenport says that women whose physical activity levels aren't quite able to match that due to circumstances such as illness or restraints will still see some benefits.
"Doing some activity is much better than not doing any at all," she said.