KARACHI   -  Pregnant women in Pakistan are missing out on the significant health benefits that come from regular exercise during pregnancy due to rampant misconceptions and poor understanding about the subject.

According to a study titled as “Household Chores as the Main Source of Physical Activity: Perspectives of Pregnant Pakistani Women,” just over one in three respondents (36 per cent) were found to be physically active during pregnancy.

The study conducted by Aga Khan University focused on lifestyles of expecting mothers identified no more than three per cent of surveyed to be setting aside up to 30 minutes per day for sport or exercise.

Vast majority of these women, 86 per cent, reported that they spent their leisure time in sedentary activities such as watching television.

Researchers observed that there existed a misconception that exercise can cause harm to the baby and that most of these women were told by their elders and even the doctors to rest and to adopt a healthy diet during pregnancy.

Expecting mothers were rarely informed about the value of exercise and as per study very few mothers-to-be were aware of how physical activity could contribute to their health and well being.

Ironically contrary to the local practice the guidelines from global obstetrics bodies recommend that pregnant women, who are not at risk of complications, need to engage in up to 30 minutes of exercise on most, if not all, days.

Exercise has been identified to be good for expecting mothers as it improves cardiovascular health, protects individuals from contracting diabetes or hypertension during pregnancy, limits weight gain and reduces the risk of postpartum depression.

There are also important health benefits for the baby as it boosts blood circulation, lowers the chance of foetal distress during labour and has been proven to have no impact on foetal growth.

Researchers found that the predominant type of physical activity for pregnant women involved doing household work and taking care of elderly relatives.

They noted that while any physical activity is beneficial, pregnant women need to think differently about exercise.

Since expecting women are generally very keen to learn about ways to stay healthy during pregnancy, the research team also called on doctors and family members to remind mothers-to-be about the benefits of exercise.

The study also found a number of social and physical barriers that prevented women from exercising more regularly. The most common concerns were a lack of support from peers and relatives, poor access to affordable facilities and concerns about safety.

Many of the women complained about absence of enough facilities available to them even if they did want to exercise while compilers of the report referred to absence of sidewalks to walk on in many of the neighbourhoods.

It was observed that there were also not many parks where women could feel safe to go on their own while stray dogs were identified as a safety risk for the people in general.