Haley Cooper-Scott admits she’s a little apprehensive about her plans for Bike to Work Week, which begins Monday.
Not about the distance from her Spokane home to her workplace in Hayden, a bit over 45 miles one way. That’ll be a breeze for her, one of the region’s top female triathletes.
And it’s not because Cooper-Scott, 33, is six months pregnant with her first child. She did her research, consulted with her doctor and is confident the bike rides are safe for her and the baby.
But she is bracing for the disapproval of some folks who think a woman entering her third trimester should avoid physical exertion.
“I have to admit there’s a little part of me that’s worried about the wrath of people, like, ‘What is she doing on a bike if she’s pregnant?’ ” said Cooper-Scott, a physical therapist who works at Physio One, a multisport performance and rehabilitation center.
She plans to pedal there Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, mostly along the Centennial Trail, then carpool home after each shift. That’s close to her usually weekly rides lately.
“I’m not doing nearly as much as I did before,” Cooper-Scott said. “I’m just letting my energy level and how my body feels be my guide. I’ve yet to have a day where I feel I’m too tired.”
After spending most of last year recovering from an injury, she had been exercising a lot last fall with an eye toward competing this March in Ironman New Zealand. Then she and her husband, Aaron, learned of the pregnancy, and Cooper-Scott’s plans changed.
“I went straight to the medical journals and tried to find information about heart rate limits and all of the things they tell you,” she said. “There’s this old trope that says women who are pregnant shouldn’t get their heart rate above 140 beats per minute.”
Obstetricians and gynecologists abandoned that guideline long ago. “There’s no evidence whatsoever that heart rate correlates to anything dangerous in terms of fetal health,” Cooper-Scott said.
She consulted her OB to make sure it was alright to keep up her active lifestyle. “She did not have any problems with me exercising to my heart’s content as long as I just let my body be my guide,” she said. “And also not to do anything I wouldn’t have done prior to my pregnancy. You know, it’s not the time to start training for a marathon.”
Cooper-Scott did a lot of cross-country skiing and some running over the winter, and once the weather improved, turned to cycling 30 to 50 miles two to three times a week. She finished Bloomsday last Sunday in 50:51, a pace of 7:05 per mile.
“When I was exploring all the literature in terms of exercise and pregnancy, the No. 1 topic was ‘How do we get women to exercise more in pregnancy?’ ” she said.
She learned that physical activity during those months can reduce back pain and hormonal depression, improve sleep and lead to easier deliveries.
“In general, they say reasonable, moderate exercise is a really important part of a healthy pregnancy,” Cooper-Scott said. “I understand what I’m doing is beyond what is reasonable and moderate for most people, but given the baseline fitness I had coming into the pregnancy, I almost think it would be more of a shock to my body to really sit back and do very little.”
Dr. Kelley Mathia with Spokane OB/GYN tells especially fit patients – aerobics instructors, body builders and the like – they certainly can maintain a level of exercise beyond most pregnant women.
“If my patients are fit, they often have a much easier time with labor and delivery,” Mathia said. “They have more stamina and energy, they don’t tend to gain as much weight, they feel better.”
She recommends regular exercise for all her patients. “Even just walking, where they get their heart rate up half an hour, 45 minutes a day, is great for pregnant people,” Mathia said.
She does caution against high-impact activities, recommends staying below a perceived rate of exertion of eight on a 10-point scale, and said hydration is especially important for women exercising during pregnancy.
Cooper-Scott does plan to taper off her exercise routine as she nears her due date in August, but she hopes to start training again for a triathlon in the months after that.
“The thing I’m just desperate to do again is Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2015. That’s my favorite race, and I think 10 months is a reasonable recovery time for that,” she said.
Cooper-Scott has completed that event seven times, placing second in 2012.
“There’s a little bit of me that thinks I could maybe run a marathon next winter, but I’m just going to play that by ear,” she added.