Exercise and Pregnancy: A Review

Robin Bell, Maureen O'Neill, Grad Dip Ex Rehab

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31 Citations (Scopus)


ABSTRACT: The effects of pregnancy on the maternal cardiorespiratory system include increases in oxygen consumption, cardiac output, heart rate, stroke volume, and plasma volume. The increase in oxygen reserve seen in early pregnancy is reduced later, suggesting that maternal exercise may present a greater physiologic stress in the third trimester. Evidence suggests that weight‐bearing exercise produces a greater decrease in oxygen reserve than nonweight‐bearing exercise. Furthermore, to maintain a heart rate below 140 beats per minute during pregnancy, the intensity of weight‐bearing exercise must be reduced. Nonweight‐bearing, water‐based exercise results in smaller fetal heart rate changes and a lower maternal heart rate than the same exercise performed on land. Exercising in the supine position in late pregnancy has raised concerns because cardiac output in the supine position is lower than in the lateral position at rest, presumably because the gravid uterus partially obstructs the inferior vena cava. Sustained exercise produces a training effect on the mother, although reported associations between this effect and the experience of labor are not consistent. Short‐term changes in fetal heart rate provide circumstantial evidence that physical activity can influence the fetus. Acute effects of exercise that can potentially affect the fetus include hyperthermia, changes in uteroplacental flow, reduced levels of maternal glucose, and increased uterine contractions. Moderate to high levels of sustained maternal exercise have been associated with reduced birthweight. Much research remains to be done on the effects of specexercise regimens during pregnancy, the effects on previously sedentary women, and the long‐term health consequences to the offspring of women who perform vigorous exercise during pregnancy. (BIRTH 21:2, June 1994)

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-95
Number of pages11
JournalBirth: Issues in Perinatal Care
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1994

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