Science Finally Proves Pregnancy is Pretty Much Like Running a Marathon
Ever wondered what it was like to run a marathon? Well, just ask a pregnant woman what it's like to live a day or two in her (most likely stretched-out shoes), because according to new research, pregnancy is basically the same as running a marathon on our bodies.
In fact, according to a study out of Duke University, pregnant women's metabolic rates were actually compared not only to athletes at a marathon level, but even to triathlon athletes. I mean, it's about darn time we pregnant women got recognized for our superhuman strengths, right? Just today, I was trying to convince my husband that I couldn't possibly clean up the breakfast dishes because I was so exhausted from growing our child and although I still ended up cleaning the kitchen, I stand by what I said–everything feels difficult to me these days as I approach my due date.
By now, you may have heard this study making its rounds around the Internet and while I am in full favor of pregnant women getting more recognition for the very physical work that can happen during pregnancy (and I say that with a disclaimer that pregnancy is so, so different for all of us and some women may feel literally no different than before, while others of us may feel like every moment is a physical battle we are fighting in our own bodies), we also need to be a little realistic about what the study actually said.
So did the study really say that pregnancy is the same as running a marathon or a triathlon?
Well, not exactly.
What the study actually did was examine the limits of human endurance on a physical level. The study looked at the world's most grueling physical activities, such as Ironman triathlons or the Tour de France bike races, to determine if there is a metabolic limit, aka the highest level of exertion that the human body can actually handle. The researchers found that for grueling, long-term physical activities that last weeks or months (cough pregnancy cough), humans are only capable of burning calories at 2.5 times their resting metabolic rate. Anything above that, and the body starts literally eating itself. (Gross, yes, but true.) The rate was consistent, even among the world's most elite and fast ultra-marathon runners–ultra-marathon runners, for the record, run up to 100 miles at a time, suggesting that humans simply can't take more than that calorie-expenditure rate.
The researchers then compared the energy expenditure of these super athletes and pregnant women and found that the energy rates of the super athletes were only slightly higher than the metabolic rates that pregnant women have. “This suggests that the same physiological limits that keep, say, Ironman triathletes from shattering speed records may also constrain other aspects of life too, such as how big babies can grow in the womb,” the researchers concluded in a press release.
Of course, unlike like the athletes, who reached their maximum energy rate only through the extreme physical conditions they were putting their bodies under, pregnant women reached their peak metabolic rate early on in their pregnancies–and continued it through their entire pregnancies. So what does all this mean?
Well, it means that while pregnancy may not be exactly the same as running a marathon, to our bodies, it's not really that different. Our bodies still recognize that we are going through an enormous amount of physical stress and change, and it automatically adjusts our metabolic rates to deal with the added physical strain. So the next time you feel guilty about needing a nap during the day, or feel like you're too exhausted to play with your toddler, or are beating yourself up for skipping the pool because you can't seem to muster up the energy, let yourself remember that your body is working incredibly, incredibly hard–even at the same level of an endurance athlete.
So, take the nap, skip the pool, or beg your partner to do the dishes instead (and hopefully you'll have more luck than I did this morning, but in my husband's defense, he did have to mow the lawn, so he wasn't being a jerk), but whatever you do, don't feel guilty. You're basically running a marathon while growing another human being and that's the most extreme sport I could ever think of.