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Exercise As Medicine During Pregnancy
By Dr. Alan Greene

Exercise is a green approach to health care. Yes, a green pregnancy means making the most of what you take into your body, through what you eat, drink, and breathe, and also absorb through your skin, hair, and nails. But how you move your body is another powerful green way to make a difference.

There are many benefits of exercise during pregnancy, including im­proved physical conditioning, strength, flexibility, and stamina. It builds endurance for labor and delivery and a quicker postnatal recovery. By ex­ercising regularly, you may be able to reduce some of the common discomforts of pregnancy such as backache, swelling, and constipation. Most of all, you feel great about yourself when you exercise.

Prescribing Exercise Over Medication

Let’s take a look at the effects of exercise versus medications for two of the most important complications of pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes. As many as one in eight women will develop gestational diabetes sometime during their pregnancies, increasing health risks for themselves and their babies. Researchers at the University of Southern California School of Medicine studied a group of women who had already developed gestational diabetes and who had fasting blood glucose levels high enough to require insulin.1

Half of the women in the study received the recommended insulin. The other half got personal trainers instead. The trainers supervised the women while they did simple twenty-minute stints on exercise bikes. The results were startling: moderate aerobic exercise was equally effective to insulin! Blood glucose levels were statistically the same in both groups.

If exercise can be a prescription-strength way to control gestational diabetes that has already developed, how much better to be active throughout pregnancy and perhaps prevent the problem in the first place.2

Insulin costs in the United States are staggering. The state Medicaid programs alone pay $500 million a year just for the drug.3 The in­­direct costs of diabetes are huge. Exercise is a green approach to health care.

Preeclampsia is complication of a pregnancy in which blood pressure in­creases and blood flow to the baby decreases. The only effective treatment for preeclampsia is to deliver the baby, so it contributes to the growing epidemic (and resource cost) of preterm deliveries. Again, regular brisk walking or other moderate physical activity begun during pregnancy significantly lowers the risk of preeclampsia. The benefit is even greater if the exercise is begun before pregnancy.4 As thankful as I am for neonatal in­tensive care units, they also represent one of the most intense uses of re­sources in health care. A walk in the park is a much greener way to deal with preeclampsia, when possible.

Green Exercise

I agree with the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology in recommending 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day, or at least on most days.5 We all know that this is a good idea, but having a baby is a fantastic time to make this resolution stick.

Talk with your pregnancy health care team before embarking on your activity plan. Some exercise is wonderful. more


1. Bung, P. R., and others. “Exercise in Gestational Diabetes: An Optional Therapeutic Approach?” Diabetes, 1991, 40, pp. 182–185.

2. Dempsey, J. C., and others. “No Need for a Pregnant Pause: Physical Activity May Reduce the Occurrence of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus and Preeclampsia.” Sport Sciences Reviews, 2005, 33, pp. 141–149.

3. Saul, S. “States, Bridling at Insulin’s Cost, Push for Generics.” The New York Times. Jan. 11, 2007.

4. Sorenson, T. K., and others. “Recreational Physical Activity During Pregnancy and Risk of Preeclampsia.” Hypertension, 2003, 41, pp. 1273–1280.

5. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology Committee on Obstetric Practice. “ACOG Committee Opinion #267: Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period.” Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2002, 99, pp. 171–173. (reaffirmed 2005)

6. Narendran, S., and others. “Efficacy of Yoga on Pregnancy Outcome.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2005, 11, pp. 237–244.

7. Narendran, S., and others. “Efficacy of Yoga on Pregnancy Outcome.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2005, 11, pp. 237–





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