Run On

The truth about running while pregnant

Ah, running. It’s a love-hate relationship, weadmit. (Mostly love … really!) Like millions,we enjoy the health benefits associatedwith running, but even more than that, werun because it’s a part of who we are. Running is not justexercise—it’s a lifestyle.

Far too often, however,women give up running as soonas they see double pink lines.Some are afraid that if theycontinue to run throughout their40 weeks of gestation, they risksabotaging the pregnancy. Whileothers are told by well-meaning,but uninformed friends andfamily members that runningwill cause irreparable harm tothe fetus.

Unfortunately, there are amultitude of unfounded myths
regarding exercise duringpregnancy, usually based on oneor more common myths aboutrunning specifically.

Myth: Pregnant women whoexercise increase their chancesof having a miscarriage.

Reality: At least 1 in 5 pregnanciesends in miscarriage
regardless of whether a womanexercises during her pregnancyor not. There is no convincingevidence indicating thatpregnant women who engagein a safe, noncontact form ofmoderate exercise, like running,are at increased riskfor miscarriage.

Myth: Pregnant women whoexercise increase their chancesof giving birth preterm.

Reality: This is one of the morecommon myths. In actuality,the opposite appears to be true.Studies have suggested thatexercise will in fact decrease,rather than increase, thechances of preterm birth.

Myth: Pregnant womenshould not start an exercise programif they weren’t exercisingprior to getting pregnant.

Reality: According to a2002 American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists(ACOG) study, which was
reaffirmed in 2009, pregnantwomen can start an exercise
program at any time duringtheir pregnancy as long as theybuild up gradually and listen totheir bodies.

Myth: Pregnant womenshould keep their heart rate under140 beats per minute at alltimes, including during exercise.

Reality:ACOG abandonedrecommendations that pregnantwomen limit their heartrates years ago because heartrates can vary so widely inresponse to exercise. The currentrecommendation is to usethe Borg Rating of PerceivedExertion (RPE) rather thanheart rate as the measure ofexercise intensity. The BorgRPE system utilizes a scalewith a lowest level of 6, whichsignifies no exertion at all, anda highest level of 20, whichsignifies maximal exertion.ACOG recommends pregnantwomen stay within the 12–14range on the Borg RPE scale,which correlates to a “somewhatto moderately hard” levelof exertion.

Myth: Pregnant womenshould not work out more thanthree times per week.

Reality: The Centers forDisease Control and Prevention
(CDC) and the AmericanCollege of Sports Medicine(ACSM) both recommend atleast 30 minutes ofmoderate exerciseon most, if not all,days of the weekfor healthy adults.ACOG has said thateven though womenexperience profoundanatomical andphysiologic changes
during pregnancy,this recommendationfrom the CDCand ACSM can andshould be followedby otherwise healthypregnant women.

Myth: Womenwho exercise duringpregnancy givebirth to low-birthweightbabies.

Reality: The evidencesuggests thatlow birth weight isnot a problem forpregnant womenwho exercise aslong as they avoidcalorie restrictionand continue toconsume a healthydiet that includes anadequate amountof calories. Womenwho exercise do,however, generallygive birth to healthy,leaner babies thathave less fat.

Myth: If apregnant womanexercises to the pointof sweating, she hasraised her body temperaturetoo high and is causing damageto her unborn child.

Reality:According to a 2002ACOG report, a woman’s internalbody temperature increasesby 1.5 degrees in the first 30minutes of moderate exercise and will stay at that level forthe next 30 minutes of exercisedue to the body’s ability tocool itself by sweating. ACOGis not aware of any reportsthat hyperthermia, or elevatedbody temperature, associatedwith exercise will result in birthdefects in humans.

Myth: Women whorun during pregnancyare subjecting theirunborn child to theimpact equivalent ofa car accident eachtime that they go outfor a run.

Reality:Babies areactually protectedvery well whiledeveloping insidemom. The uterus hasthick, muscular wallsand the amniotic fluidcompletely surroundsthe baby, cradling herinside the womb. Theabdominal muscles offeradditional supportand insulation as well.It would take a severephysical blow tooverwhelm all of thesedefenses and causeinjury to the baby.

Tim Gargiulo is a formernationally rankedroad racer and finalistat 5000 meters in the1996 U.S. OlympicTrials. His wife,Elizabeth Stevenson-Gargiulo, has beenin private practiceas an obstetrician/gynecologist in Dallasfor nearly 16 yearsand has taken careof dozens of womenwho ran during theirpregnancies. She is aveteran of nine marathonsand ran throughher entire pregnancy. For moreinformation on Elizabeth Stevenson-Gargiulo and her work,