With more people engaging in regular exercise programs, the questions have been raised concerning the risks and benefits of exercise during pregnancy. Although exercise does pose certain risks during pregnancy, the benefits of an appropriate exercise program appear to be significant. Among the exercise-related risks to the fetus are: hypoxemia or insufficient oxygen, resulting from blood being diverted from the fetus to muscle tissue; changes in heart rate; maternal hyperthermia, which some studies have shown to be damaging to the fetus; and fluctuations in barometric pressure, which may accompany mountain sports and diving. High altitudes have been associated with fetal hypoxia and growth retardation; deep diving, but not snorkeling, may contribute to excessive nitrogen in fetal tissue due to gas absorption. Risks to the mother include adverse effects on posture as a result of back strain, and other musculoskeletal injuries. Exercise can increase uterine contractions, and may lead to prematurity and low birth weight. However, exercise provides valuable benefits for pregnant women: decreased blood pressure; reduced risk of other cardiovascular disorders, such as clotting; help in maintaining ideal body weight; and managing stable diabetes. Pregnant women who exercise have been shown to have shorter labors and easier deliveries and to possess greater self-esteem. The risks to the fetus and mother are considered to be remote. Swimming, aerobic walking and biking in moderation are not associated with any of the problems described. Pregnant women should exercise in moderation and monitor their heart rates. Exercise during pregnancy is acceptable as long as there is only one fetus, no indication of heart disease, no history of complications with previous pregnancies, and no physical disability that would preclude exercise. (Consumer Summary produced by Reliance Medical Information, Inc.)
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