- On June 26, 2017
Although the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women implement 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week, only 42% of women surveyed reported exercising during their pregnancy, with only half continuing that exercise regimen past the sixth month (1,2,3). While apprehensions and barriers to beginning an exercise regimen are understandable during pregnancy, the risks for decreasing or eliminating physical activity during pregnancy causes concern with statistics showing that 34% of pregnant women are overweight, and 25% are obese. With this unhealthy increase in weight comes the increased incidence of gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, high birth weights, and higher risks of cesarean delivery. The current rate of gestational diabetes in the United States is 18% of all pregnancies (4). Though these patterns are daunting, evidence based research shows that regularly occurring, moderate exercise can be beneficial for pregnant women and their babies.
Pregnant women who engage in moderate intensity exercise on a regular basis have seen improvements in their cardiovascular health, as well as the cardiovascular health of the fetus (3). Most of these studies have been done following aerobic exercises, but these benefits have also been shown for resistance training, circuit training, as well as other modes of weight bearing and non-weight bearing exercises (4). The benefits also stretch through delivery and into post-partum, with reports showing improved aerobic capacity, decreased cardiovascular risks during labor, and decreased recovery time (3,4). In addition to beneficial cardiovascular responses to exercise during pregnancy, studies have shown a 30-74% decrease in occurrence of gestational diabetes when exercise regimens are implemented in observed populations (4).
Throughout the trimesters of pregnancy, it is common for women to experience changes in mood, energy levels, and decreases in self-esteem. Regular physical activity promotes strength and accomplishment, as well as decreases excessive weight gain and improves muscle tone, all of which have been shown to help promote improved moods, self-esteem and energy levels in pregnant women (5).
Birth weight and placental growth is of concern to many mothers when determining how often, and to what intensity they will begin their exercise routines. Studies have concluded that if women were active before pregnancy and maintain the same intensity throughout their pregnancy they should have no concerns of adverse effects on fetal growth (6,7,8). For women new to exercise programs or the same group who is active prior to pregnancy, it is recommended that exercise intensity be either maintain evenly throughout all trimesters, or slightly decreased in intensity during the final trimester. The only noted decreases in birth weights were seen in groups who increased exercise intensity continually through the third trimester (7).
Maintaining an exercise regimen throughout pregnancy has also been shown to shorten the first stage of labor (9), as well as some indications of decreased risk of cesarean delivery (10, 11).
Overall, evidence based research concludes that women who are physical active throughout their pregnancy have the potential to experience a variety of benefits throughout pregnancy, during labor, as well as developmental benefits for their children.Written By: Addie Dulaney Majnaric, Dietetic InternBS Exercise Physiology – Minor Strength & Conditioning from West Virginia UniversityBS Human Nutrition & Foods from West Virginia UniversityThe Sage Colleges – Distance Dietetic Internship Program
- Prather H, Spitznagle T, Hunt D. Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy. The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2012; 4: 845-850.
- Clapp JF. Exercise During Pregnancy. Clinics in Sports Medicine. 2000; 19: 273-286.
- May LE, Allen JJB, Gustafson KM. Fetal and Maternal Cardiac Responses to Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy. Early Human Development. 2016; 94: 49-52.
- Cid M, Gonzalez M. Potential Benefits of Physical Activity During Pregnancy for the Reduction of Gestational Diabetes Prevalence and Oxidative Stress. Early Human Development. 2016; 94: 57-62.
- Poudevigne MS, O’Connor PJ. A Review of Physical Activity Patterns in Pregnant Women and Their Relationship to Psychological Health. Sports Medicine. 2006; 36 (1): 19-38.
- Clapp JF. The Effects of Maternal Exercise on Fetal Oxygenation and Feto-Placental Growth. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2003; 110: 80-85.
- Clapp JF, Kim J, Burciu B, Schmidt S, Petry K, Lopez B. Continuing Regular Exercise During Pregnancy: Effect of Exercise Volume on Fetoplacental Growth. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2001; 186 (1): 143-147.
- Hilde G, Eskild A, Owe KM, Bo K, Bjelland EK. Exercise in Pregnancy: An Association with Placental Weight. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2017; 168 (1): 1-9.
- Perales M, Calabria I, Lopez C, Franco E, Coteron J, Barakat R. Regular Exercise Throughout Pregnancy Is Associated With a Shorter First Stage of Labor. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2016; 30 (3): 149-154.
- Tinloy J, Chuang CH, Zhu J, Pauli J, Kraschnewski JL, Kjerulff KH. Exercise During Pregnancy and Risk of Late Preterm Birth, Cesarean Delivery, and Hospitalizations. Women’s Health Issues. 2014; 24 (1): 99-104.
- Domenjoz I, Kayser B, Boulvain M. Effect of Physical Activity During Pregnancy on Mode of Delivery. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2014;401: 1-11.