My sister is an animal. And I mean that in the sweetest, most affectionate way that a big brother can speak of a younger sibling.
Ali was a four-sport star in high school. After a standout collegiate career, she traveled the world while playing tennis professionally for two years. For the next dozen or so years, her post-tennis life involved working out vigorously every day and running the occasional half-marathon or marathon.
The marathons and half-marathons dropped out of the picture when she became pregnant late last year. But as I witnessed firsthand on a family vacation earlier this month, even at seven-plus months, Ali continues to work out on a daily basis.
The length and intensity of these workouts have dropped, but by anyone but Ali's measure, they would still be considered intense. A typical session now consists of a four- or five-mile run at eight- to nine-minute-mile pace. She also continues to do things like canoeing and hiking.
I'm a pretty committed fitness enthusiast myself, but I grew concerned at the sight of my sister and my soon-to-be niece or nephew blowing by other joggers on a running trail. I know that it's healthy to exercise during pregnancy, but how much is too much? And do her workouts potentially risk inducing early labor or harm to her child?
Dr. Prescott prescribes
As a general rule, if you exercised before you were pregnant, it's healthy to continue. And even if you didn't, as long as you get the OK from your physician, staying active brings numerous benefits during pregnancy. It helps control weight gain, maintains cardiovascular health, prepares the body for childbirth, and even lessens the chances of developing preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, conditions that can be dangerous or even life-threatening to mothers and their unborn children.
While certainly vigorous, Ali's exercise regimen follows recommended guidelines, which suggest at least 30 minutes of activity most days each week. An activity like running, which is aerobic but doesn't involve a high risk of falling or impact to the baby (hockey and roller derby are definite no-no's), is ideal. She should, however, try to avoid exercising in extreme heat, as overheating can pose risks to her baby. Similarly, she should avoid any kind of exertion at high altitudes, as it's crucial that her child receive an ample supply of oxygen.
Of course, if she finds activities uncomfortable as her pregnancy progresses, she should back off. And any sort of red flags — pains, difficulties breathing, bleeding, decreased baby movement — should serve as clear signals to stop what she's doing and consult with her doctor.
A quick Internet search suggests that many believe that exercise late in the pregnancy can trigger labor. However, like other purported labor-inducing behaviors — such as eating spicy food or having sexual intercourse — the scientific data to support this commonly held belief is lacking.
So long as your sister keeps feeling good, there's no reason she shouldn't keep blowing by all those non-pregnant joggers on her daily workouts. And once your niece or nephew is born, I bet Ali will be back to marathons in no time.
Prescott, a physician and medical researcher, is president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. Cohen is a marathoner and OMRF's senior vice president and general counsel.