Published: May 22, 2014

'I can' mentality goes long way after childbirth

Contact(s): Sarina Gleason Media Communications office: (517) 355-9742 sarina.gleason@cabs.msu.edu, Jim Pivarnik Kinesiology office: 517-353-3520 jimpiv@msu.edu

The way a woman feels about tackling everyday physical activities, including exercise, may be a predictor of how much weight she’ll retain years after childbirth, says a Michigan State University professor.

James Pivarnik, a professor of kinesiology and epidemiology at MSU, co-led a study that followed 56 women during pregnancy and measured their physical activity levels, along with barriers to exercise and the ability to overcome them.

Six years later, the research team followed up with more than half of the participants and found that the women who considered themselves less able to take on these barriers had retained more of their pregnancy weight. Top barriers identified in the study included time, motivation and childcare issues.

The research could help health professionals better understand what these real and perceived obstacles are and help women deal with negative perceptions while incorporating physical activity into their daily lives.

“The women who had difficulty believing they could overcome barriers that often occur in daily life or just thought they weren’t cut out for physical activity overall retained 11 to 13 more pounds of pregnancy weight later on,” Pivarnik said.

In contrast, the study revealed that those who showed higher levels of self-confidence had four to five times more physical activity during pregnancy and performed almost three times more activity six years later.

“We know that it’s beneficial for a woman to be active in some way during and after pregnancy so she can regain her fitness and help with weight loss,” Pivarnik said. “But what can affect this is whether women think they can or can’t do it.”

Exercise physiologist and co-author Patricia Bauer helped lead the study, in addition to support from MSU professors Deborah Feltz and Nigel Paneth, and Christopher Womack with James Madison University.

The study can be found in a recent print edition of the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Jim Pivarnik, professor of kinesiology and epidemiology

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