Monday, May 11, 2015

Walk before the Waddle: Improving Cardiovascular Health

Improving cardiovascular health is an important consideration pre-conception. Taken from the book Before Your Pregnancy: A 90-Day Guide For Couples on How to Prepare for a Healthy Conception:
"According to the American College of Sports Medicine, regular moderate-intensity physical activity "is the cornerstone therapy for the primary prevention, treatment, and control" of high blood pressure. It may also protect against developing high blood pressure during pregnancy. The most dramatic improvements are seen in women who go from being completely sedentary to being moderately active - doing something as simple as walking around the neighborhood" (p.182). 

It is recommended that women preparing for pregnancy make it a regular routine to get in at least 30 minutes of active exercise a day. Walking is an easy exercise routine to start, and will be easy to maintain after you become pregnant. The most important consideration for an exercise routine is choosing something that you can turn into a habit. If you are not already physically active, it is important to take things slow -- gradually building up activity over time. 

In our preparation for pregnancy, we actually both purchased a Fitbit Flex. This activity tracker is worn on the wrist with interchangeable colorful wristbands. It syncs with either your computer (through a USB device) or your smartphone, tracking the number of steps you have taken during the day. We really like this activity tracker because of the free iPhone app which allows us to easily check on our step progress throughout the day. Here is a screenshot of the app from A's phone to show you what it looks like:

Overall, the app tracks how many steps you've taken, total miles traveled for the day, and total active minutes. My advice would be to set a goal for 30 "active minutes" per day. The best part about the Fitbit app is that you can set up challenges with friends. Do you know others with a Fitbit trying to improve their fitness? Set up a "goal day" challenge and see who can log the most steps!

I have definitely noticed changes since using my Fitbit, including always using the steps at work instead of relying on the elevator to reach my third floor office. On days when I forget my lunch, it is also an incentive to walk to pick up lunch. 

What are the benefits of a healthy cardiovascular system for pregnancy? I found an excellent article discussing the importance of this aspect of your health:
After becoming pregnant, a woman is likely to focus on the health of her growing fetus; she may not necessarily consider the effects of pregnancy on her own health, except in terms of how it may affect her future child. In essence, though, pregnancy can have a profound effect on a woman’s health and may, in fact, be her first “cardiac stress test.” Even an otherwise healthy woman experiences a rise in total cholesterol (TC), triglycerides (TG), and possibly blood pressure (BP) during pregnancy. A woman who gains excessive weight or makes poor lifestyle choices during pregnancy can heighten the metabolic changes already occurring and place her at risk for developing gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) or pre-eclampsia. These events may not only jeopardize the pregnancy outcome but may also increase the woman’s risk for developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the future.

Not only is your cardiovascular health an important consideration pre-conception, it is important to continue during pregnancy and after delivery to help keep your heart healthy. Future posts will focus on other lifestyle changes (e.g., reducing salt intake) that can also help keep your heart healthy.

As with any health advice, it is important to consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen. If you have a pre-existing chronic health condition it is important to follow exercise recommendations developed by your healthcare provider.

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