34 Pregnancy and Disabilities

Keeping Active during Pregnancy and with Disabilities

All Americans should be physically active to improve overall health and fitness and to prevent many adverse health outcomes. However, some people have conditions that raise special issues about recommended types and amounts of physical activity. This chapter provides guidance on physical activity for healthy women who are pregnant and for people with disabilities.

Physical Activity for Women during Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period

Women who are pregnant and those who’ve recently had a baby should be under the regular care of a health-care provider. Moderate-intensity physical activity is generally safe for women with uncomplicated pregnancies, but women should talk with their provider about how to adjust the amounts and types of activity while they are pregnant and right after the baby’s birth.

During pregnancy, women should avoid:

  • Doing activities with high risk of falling or abdominal trauma, including contact or collision sports, such as horseback riding, soccer, basketball, and downhill skiing.
  • Physical activity during pregnancy benefits a woman’s overall health. For example, moderate-intensity physical activity by healthy women during pregnancy maintains or increases cardiorespiratory fitness.

Strong scientific evidence shows that the risks of moderate-intensity activity done by healthy women during pregnancy are very low, and do not increase risk of low birth weight, preterm delivery, or early pregnancy loss. Some evidence suggests that physical activity reduces the risk of pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, and reduces the length of labor, but this evidence is not conclusive.

During a normal postpartum period, regular physical activity continues to benefit a woman’s overall health. Studies show that moderate-intensity physical activity during the period following the birth of a child increases a woman’s cardiorespiratory fitness and improves her mood. Such activity does not appear to have adverse effects on breast milk volume, breast milk composition, or infant growth.

Physical activity also helps women achieve and maintain a healthy weight during the postpartum period, and when combined with caloric restriction, helps promote weight loss.

Key Guidelines for Women during Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period

Women who are pregnant should be under the care of a health-care provider with whom they can discuss how to adjust amounts of physical activity during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Unless a woman has medical reasons to avoid physical activity during pregnancy, she can begin or continue moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity during her pregnancy and after the baby is born.

When beginning physical activity during pregnancy, women should increase the amount gradually over time. The effects of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity during pregnancy have not been studied carefully, so there is no basis for recommending that women should begin vigorous-intensity activity during pregnancy.

Women who habitually do vigorous-intensity activity or high amounts of activity or strength training should continue to be physically active during pregnancy and after giving birth. They generally do not need to drastically reduce their activity levels, provided that they remain healthy and discuss with their health-care provider how to adjust activity levels during this time.

During pregnancy, women should avoid doing exercises involving lying on their back after the first trimester of pregnancy. They should also avoid doing activities that increase the risk of falling or abdominal trauma, including contact or collision sports, such as horseback riding, downhill skiing, soccer, and basketball.

Physical Activity for People with Disabilities

The benefits of physical activity for people with disabilities have been studied in diverse groups. These groups include stroke victims, people with spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, limb amputations, mental illness, intellectual disability, and dementia.

Overall, the evidence shows that regular physical activity provides important health benefits for people with disabilities. The benefits include improved cardiovascular and muscle fitness, improved mental health, and better ability to do tasks of daily life. Sufficient evidence now exists to recommend that adults with disabilities should get regular physical activity.

People with disabilities are encouraged to get advice from professionals with experience in physical activity and disability because matching activity to abilities can require modifying physical activity in many different ways. Some people with disabilities also need help with their exercise program. For example, some people may need supervision when performing muscle-strengthening activities, such as lifting weights.

Show Sources


Keeping Active during Pregnancy and with Disabilities: The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, Office of Disease Prevention & Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/


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