When Serena Williams won her 23rd Grand Slam tennis singles title at the Australian Open last January, she didn’t do it alone. A stowaway passenger, the size of a grape and in constant independent motion, accompanied Serena throughout every serve, lob, and backhand. That she was eight weeks pregnant at the time of her latest triumph makes her achievement all the more spectacular.
How could she have done it? Well, pregnancy causes an increase in blood volume, multiplying the red cells which carry oxygen to an athlete’s muscles, and that might enhance athletic performance. But the surge of hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone which accompany each pregnancy, leads to a level of fatigue which would more than offset any benefit from the increase in blood. Other symptoms present at eight weeks of pregnancy include weight gain and nausea or “morning sickness”.
Researchers at Michigan State University who have studied the effects of exercise on pregnancy conclude that the resiliency displayed by top athletes makes their pregnancies different than those of less active women. Peak performing female athletes put themselves through intense physical stresses each day of their careers. Their remarkable ability to recover from exertion induced fatigue makes them able to consistently perform at the very highest level. These traits can make pregnancy seem like just one more physical barrier to surmount.
Pregnancy would not be the ideal time to begin a vigorous exercise program from scratch, but we obstetricians encourage active women to continue their regular exercise throughout their pregnancies, to stay hydrated and take care to not get overheated.
Decades ago, pregnant women were advised to avoid all exertion, but those days are long gone. Current standard guidelines for physical activity are identical for both pregnant and non-pregnant women. Newly pregnant women who have been passive are encouraged to commence moderate activities, such as walking or exercise classes tailored for expectant mothers. A regular program of moderate activity will eliminate excessive weight gain and reduce the risk of complications such as gestational diabetes, macrosomia, and preeclampsia.
No one comes close to suggesting that pregnant women should endeavor to emulate Serena Williams’ feat, but it displays what strong women can accomplish, even while pregnant. Let me know what you think! Thaïs
Read the full article at: www.nytimes.com
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