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Exercising during pregnancy safe for babies, cuts need for C section by 10%


*Running for one minute daily, dieting reduce diabetes risk in pregnancy, brittle bone disease

Pregnant women who have a healthy diet and regular moderate exercise are less likely to have a caesarean section, gain excessive weight, or develop diabetes in pregnancy, according to a study led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), United Kingdom (U.K.), using data from over 12,000 women.

The study, published in the BMJ, is the largest research project in the world looking at lifestyle interventions in pregnancy, involving more than 50 researchers from 41 institutions. The UK Chief Medical Officers in the Department of Health’s infographics on physical activity recently used its results in pregnancy, which recommended at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week.

Half of all women of childbearing age worldwide are overweight or obese, which puts both mother and offspring at risk in pregnancy and later life. Previous studies have found that diet and physical activity have an overall benefit on limiting weight gain during pregnancy, but findings have varied for their protective effect on maternal and offspring outcomes.

Also, a brief, medium-paced run for premenopausal women, or a short, slow-paced jog for postmenopausal women, is linked to better bone health.New research from the University of Exeter and the University of Leicester, both in the UK, suggests that a single one-minute bout of high-intensity, weight-bearing physical activity is associated with better bone health in women.

Such brief bursts of activity are equivalent to a run at a medium pace for premenopausal women, and a slow-paced jog for postmenopausal women. The findings were published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that causes bone to become weak and brittle. Bone tissue is constantly broken down and replaced, but osteoporosis occurs when new bone production does not keep pace with the removal of old bone.

Individuals with osteoporosis have holes and spaces in the bone that are larger than those of healthy bone. This reduced bone density and mass make the bones more likely to break.

The likelihood of developing osteoporosis significantly increases for women who have experienced menopause. Therefore, finding strategies that may optimize bone health in premenopausal and postmenopausal women is a priority. Evidence shows that being inactive is a modifiable risk factor for osteoporosis. But how physical activity helps to maintain or minimize the loss of bone mass is not understood as well as other modifiable risk factors, such as diet, smoking, and alcohol. The new research examined whether or not physical activity relevant to bone health was associated with healthy bone in premenopausal and postmenopausal women.

Professor Shakila Thangaratinam from QMUL’s Barts Research Centre for Women’s Health said: “Our findings are important because it is often thought that pregnant women shouldn’t exercise because it may harm the baby. But we show that the babies are not affected by physical activity or dieting, and that there are additional benefits including a reduction in maternal weight gain, diabetes in pregnancy, and the risk of requiring a caesarean section….”

“This should be part of routine advice in pregnancy, given by practitioners as well as midwives. Now that we’re able to link the advice to why it’s beneficial for mothers-to-be, we hope mothers are more likely to adopt these lifestyle changes.”

The research looked at the individual participant data for 12,526 pregnant women across 36 previous trials in 16 countries**, which compared the effects of dieting (including restriction of sugar sweetened beverages, promoting low-fat dairy products, increase in fruits and vegetables) and physical activity (moderate intensity including aerobic classes and stationary cycling, and resistance training for muscle groups).

Dieting combined with physical activity significantly reduced the mother’s weight gain during pregnancy by an average of 0.7 kg compared to the control group and lowered the odds of the mother having a caesarean section by about 10 per cent. UK caesarean rates are around 25 per cent and can carry risks such as infections for the mother and breathing difficulties for the baby.

Thangaratinam said: “For every 40 mothers who follow the healthy diet and moderate exercise, one less woman will end up with a caesarean section.”Changes in lifestyle reduced the risk of diabetes in pregnancy by 24 per cent, which normally affects over one in 10 mothers in pregnancy, and increases risks of complications in mother and baby.

Thangaratinam added: “Often with interventions like these, certain groups benefit more than others, but we’ve shown that diet and physical activity has a beneficial effect across all groups, irrespective of your body mass index (BMI), age or ethnicity; so these interventions have the potential to benefit a huge number of people.”

There was no strong evidence that the interventions affected offspring outcomes such as stillbirth, underweight or overweight births, or admission to a neonatal intensive care unit. The lack of adverse effects should reassure mothers who have traditionally been advised not to undertake structured exercise or manage their diet in pregnancy.

Using data from UK Biobank on more than 2,500 women, lead author Dr. Victoria Stiles, a senior lecturer in Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter, and team compared activity levels as measured by monitors worn on the wrist for a week, with bone health as measured by an ultrasound scan on the participants’ heel bones.

Analysis by the researchers showed that women who participated in between 60 and 120 seconds of high-intensity, weight-bearing physical activity each day had four percent better bone health than women who took part in under a minute of physical activity. Furthermore, women who did more than two minutes of this type of exercise had 6 percent better bone health.

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