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Pregnancy exercises: Benefits, facts and stats

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The benefits of exercise during pregnancy are well documented. Numerous studies demonstrate a positive effect on both an expectant mum’s health and her baby’s health – to the extent that women are now being encouraged to get Active for 2. Pregnancy exercise does much more than improve a mother’s well-being – it can aid the development of your baby’s heart and brain too. If you’re struggling to find motivation, these facts about the benefits of pregnancy exercise may help get you started.

For Mum

Reduced incidence of lower back pain 1

A 30% reduction in the risk of gestational diabetes 2

Reduced likelihood of unplanned caesarean 3,4

Lower incidence 5 and reduced severity 6 of depression

Less pregnancy weight gain 4

Lower risk of urinary incontinence 7

Reduce incidents of pregnancy constipation 8

Less pregnancy tiredness 9

May have a shorter labour 10

For Baby

A healthier heart 10

Normal birth weight 11

Quicker to develop neurologically 12

Reduced risk of respiratory distress syndrome (for infants of high-risk women) 13

Less maternal stress could reduce impact on immune system development 15

Why exercise in pregnancy?

The benefits of exercise during pregnancy are becoming increasingly evident. Pregnancy exercise can improve an expectant mum’s experience of pregnancy in many ways. Studies show that exercising mothers:

  • Experience less lower back pain1, pregnancy constipation8 and tiredness9
  • Are 30% less likely to develop gestational diabetes2
  • Are less likely to need an unplanned caesarean3,4
  • Experience fewer incidences5 and reduced severity6 of depression
  • Gain less weight during pregnancy4
  • Are less likely to develop urinary incontinence7
  • Have reduced incidents of pregnancy constipation8
  • Less pregnancy tiredness9
  • May have shorter labour10

The benefits for your baby could last them a lifetime. Babies born to mothers who exercise in pregnancy are more likely to:

  • Develop a healthier heart with a lower resting heart rate after birth11
  • Be born at what is considered a ‘normal’ birth weight, rather than overweight12
  • Be born with more mature brains and are quicker to develop neurologically13
  • Experience a reduced risk of respiratory distress at birth (if born to high-risk mothers)14
  • Less maternal stress could reduce impact on immune system development15

If you’re feeling motivated to get Active for 2, read more about how to exercise safely during pregnancy and which exercises to avoid. Just be sure to speak to your doctor or midwife before you begin.

View references

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1. Pennick V, Liddle SD. Interventions for preventing and treating pelvic and back pain in pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013(CD0011):1-100.

2. Sanabria‐Martínez G et al. Effectiveness of physical activity interventions on preventing gestational diabetes mellitus and excessive maternal weight gain: a meta‐analysis. BJOG 2015;122(9):1167-74.

3. Price BB et al. Exercise in pregnancy: effect on fitness and obstetric outcomes-a randomized trial. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2012;44(12):2263-9.

4. Domenjoz I et al. Effect of physical activity during pregnancy on mode of delivery. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2014;211(4):401.e1-e11.

5. Gaston A, Prapavessis H. Tired, moody and pregnant? Exercise may be the answer. Psychol Health 2013;28(12):1353-69.

6. Robledo-Colonia AF et al. Aerobic exercise training during pregnancy reduces depressive symptoms in nulliparous women: a randomised trial. J Physiother 2012;58(1):9-15.

7. Perales M et al. Benefits of aerobic or resistance training during pregnancy on maternal health and perinatal outcomes: A systematic review. Early Hum Dev 2016;94:43-8..

8. Shi W et al. Epidemiology and risk factors of functional constipation in pregnant women. PloS one 2015;10(7):e0133521

9. Gaston A, Prapavessis H. Tired, moody and pregnant? Exercise may be the answer. Psychol Health 2013;28(12):1353-69.

10. Barakata et al. Exercise during pregnancy is associated with a shorter duration of labor. A randomized clinical trial 2018, 224 33-40

11. May LE et al. Aerobic exercise during pregnancy influences fetal cardiac autonomic control of heart rate and heart rate variability. Early Hum Dev 2010;86(4):213-7.

12. Bisson M et al. Physical activity volumes during pregnancy: A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies assessing the association with infant's birth weight. AJP Reports 2016;6(02):e170-e97.

13. Labonte-Lemoyne E et al. Exercise during pregnancy enhances cerebral maturation in the newborn: A randomized controlled trial. J Clin Exp Neuropsychol 2016:1-8.

14. Muktabhant B et al. Diet or exercise, or both, for preventing excessive weight gain in pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2015 Jun 15;(6):CD007145.

15. Marques AH, Bjorke-Monsen AL, Teixeira AL, Silverman MN. Maternal stress, nutrition and physical activity: impact on immune function, CNS development and psychopathology. Brain Research. 2015;1617:28–46.

Last reviewed: 8th August 2018

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