Why a sedentary lifestyle could be harmful during pregnancy?

In the busy modern life, physical activity often takes a back seat and people develop a sedentary lifestyle. This article discusses the harmful impact of sedentary behaviour during pregnancy and ways to overcome them. Pregnancy is a wonderful opportunity and motivation to reflect your lifestyle.

Staying active is key for good health and wellbeing in pregnancy and beyond.

Some facts:

1. Research indicates that adults spent 55-60% of their time in sedentary habits. Pregnant women are also believed to spend the same or even more time in sedentary behaviour.

2. Only 15% of pregnant women carry out regular exercise as per the recommended guidance.

3. Over 40% of women gain more weight during pregnancy (‘gestational weight gain’) than recommended in the United States.

4. Approximately 1 in 3 women in early pregnancy has obesity (BMI ≥30kg/m2 . Obesity is often an indication of a more sedentary lifestyle.

Considering the above facts, it is clear that sedentary behaviour is a significant problem during pregnancy and often goes unrecognised. Therefore, pregnant women should be encouraged to change their sedentary lifestyle to have a happier and healthier pregnancy.

What is Sedentary Behaviour?

Spending time sitting or lying down while awake is called sedentary behaviour.  This involves very little expenditure of body energy.

The examples of sedentary behaviour include doing the following in the sitting/ lying down positions (not sleeping):

1. Working at a desk or computer

2. Browsing social media/ phone or watching television.

3. Reading/ writing/ painting/ computer games

4. Travelling by car, bus, train, flight

In this digital era, the screen time (i.e., the time spent in watching television, mobile device or a computer screen) is also a good reflection of a sedentary lifestyle.

Sedentary time is often a fair indication of a sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical exercise/ activity of a person.

Why the sedentary behaviour is harmful to health?

Lack of physical activity slows down the body’s metabolism, circulation, breakdown of body fat, and regulation of blood sugar and blood pressure.

Studies have shown that adults with a sedentary lifestyle are more prone to develop obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and premature death.

This also results in poor fitness level (cardio-vascular capacity and reserve).

Is there any safe cut-off limit for sedentary time?

There is no known specific safe lower limit for the time spent sedentary positions. However,  it is recommended that we should take a break every 30 minutes from sitting (or simply lying down when awake) and total sedentary time should be less than 9 hours per day.

Why the sedentary behaviour is detrimental during pregnancy?

Lack of physical activity can lead to the following pregnancy complications:

1. Excessive pregnancy (‘gestational’) weight gain:

Putting on excessive weight can increase the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, blood clots (‘venous thromboembolism’), big babies (‘macrosomia’)

2. Gestational diabetes:

This can happen with or without excessive weight gain in pregnancy.

3. Postpartum weight retention:

Difficulty in losing weight after the childbirth and remaining overweight afterwards.

4. Increased risk of Caesarean births.

5. Obese children:

Obesity/ Overweight of the child in the forthcoming years.

How the physical activity level can be measured during pregnancy?

It could be challenging to assess physical activity level accurately during pregnancy. Self-reported questionnaires such as Pregnancy Physical Activity Questionnaire (PPAQ) are often used in this purpose.

Why sedentary behaviour is more common during pregnancy?

Women often reduce (or sometimes even stop) their physical activity during pregnancy. In fact, some studies indicate that the majority of pregnant women do not exercise as per recommendations.

Moreover, time spent in physical activity likely to lessen as the pregnancy advances.

The following are the possible causes contributing to a more sedentary lifestyle in pregnancy:

1. Fear of miscarriage, preterm labour, growth restriction

2. Pre-pregnancy sedentary lifestyle.

3. Modern lifestyle: more time on social media.

4. Lack of knowledge among HCP.

5. Occupation related.

6. Physical discomfort, pain, nausea/ vomiting.

7. Influence from family and society due to lack of knowledge and awareness.

What you can do to break the sedentary time?

Even if you are too busy, allocating time for physical activity/ exercise is must not only during pregnancy but throughout the entire life.

Some simple ideas to overcome sedentary habits are as follows:

1. To move around and stand up at regular intervals during watching television or working on the computer/ doing desk work for long.

2. While talking on the phone, avoid sitting/ lying down and rather walk.

3. Reflect on your current lifestyle and plan the day/ week to include exercise/ physical activity into a regular routine.

If you do sedentary work or a similar occupation:

1. Avoid having meals sitting at your desk/ staff room. Try to have the break outside, if allowed at the workplace.

2. Try to use a standing desk for the computer, if possible.

3. Stand during reading whenever possible.

4. For conference calls, you may participate while standing or moving around while on your mobile phone.

5. You may need to speak to your manager regarding a change in your work pattern during pregnancy.