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Weighty Matters: Keep Excessive Pounds Off During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, low intensity exercise earns higher-intensity rewards.

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Most of us who have had children can relate to the common pregnancy self-talk that, as we enter the drive-thru, says, “I’m already going to gain a ton of weight. What’s another few pounds?”

But research has demonstrated that even a few extra pounds above the recommended weight gain amount increases a woman’s chances of retaining excess weight after pregnancy and becoming obese in the long-term. In one large study, 14.2 percent of previously normal-weight women became overweight by one year postpartum. And among normal-weight woman, 40 percent of them put on excess pounds during their pregnancies.

MORE: Why Are People Obsessed With Pregnant Celebrities?

Given that this added weight increases the risk of long-term obesity in both the mother and the infant, preventing the excessive weight gain in the first place is central. 

A new study highlights an exercise and nutrition program that succeeded in preventing a significant number of women from gaining excessive weight during their pregnancies and also from retaining extra weight afterwards. Women were divided into three groups: a moderate-intensity exercise group who received nutritional counseling, a low-intensity exercise group who also received the same nutritional counseling, and a control group who received no intervention. 

The exercise program was simple: Walk. The first week began with 25 minutes of walking three to four times a week. The women gradually increased their walk time to 40 minutes.

MORE: 7 Easy Ways to Reach 10,000 Steps

The nutrition program was equally simple, with suggestions for calorie intake that would support the recommended progressive weight gain (about 2000 kcal per day). The women were instructed to eat three meals and three to four snacks per day, with 40-55 percent of the calories coming from complex and low-glycemic index carbohydrates, 30 percent of the calories stemming from healthy fats, and 20-30 percent coming from protein.

The results, for the most part, were what you would expect. A lower percentage of women in the exercise groups gained excessive weight when compared to the controls, and they also retained less weight at two months postpartum.

But the surprise comes between the two exercise groups.

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Ruchat, SM, et al. Nutrition and Exercise Reduce Excessive Weight Gain in Normal-Weight Pregnant Women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012; 44(8):1419-1426.

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