I have long wanted to write this post. Recently two articles appeared in the NY Times prompting me to move forward. One article dealt with how it is that ongoing vigorous exercise produces brain enhancements. The second article dealt with how running creates its “high” and explained why the resulting addiction is an evolutionary benefit for human survival.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning a lion wakes up.
It knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better be running.
Ethiopia, circa 1974
The pregnant mom who exercises vigorously and regularly — the one who runs or swims or does aerobic dancing — is not the one at risk, or whose infant is at risk, of a lack of tolerance for the rigors of labor or for lifestyle health problems. It is the sedentary or low activity mother and her offspring who are at risk. I have written at length on this reality in my chapter on Women and Exercise in Varney’s Midwifery.
This realization has plagued me for ages, and the two articles in the Times convinced me to make this statement, explain why it is true and exhort women of childbearing age to become aerobic animals.
In the contemporary world, we are not as active as previous generations. Few women exercise to the extent required to develop the capacity to withstand the rigors of birth. It is little wonder that so often health care providers hear that women are afraid to exercise, and childbirth educators hear that pregnant moms are afraid of birth and don’t have confidence in their ability to do it. There are solutions for these issues…
The biggest bang for the buck is aerobics. This gets almost everything that helps you in labor. It increases endurance, strength and range of motion. It improves breathing capacity (you get more oxygen + less fatigue). It reduces your need to tap your cardiac reserve (your body works hard in labor but not to the degree it must if you are not fit). Plus, regular participation in a good cardio or aerobic workout gives you the mental toughness and confidence you need to know that your body is capable of the work and the recovery — what we call body trust. Fit Pregnancy has discussed the myths surrounding how hard a pregnant woman can work out.
Learning useful positions and movements is extremely helpful. Be sure that your workout also includes strength and coordination movements — such things as squatting, core movements for pelvis and spine, and other motions that aid your progress in labor. Being upright and moving are keys to a healthy labor. These require strength and coordination.
Mental focus and being present teach you to work with your body. Activities such as relaxation training, yoga, pilates for pregnancy and dance help you develop the mental skills (mindfulness and deep breathing) that accompany your movement. Learn to recognize your body’s signals so you know when it’s time to push.
A truly effective use of your time is a one hour class a couple times a week that combines all these elements. We have known this for decades. The evidence is clear that it works. Keep moving…right into labor and birth!