Prenatal Exercise Cuts Common Pregnancy Complications


  • This review article searched MEDLINE and Web of Science databases for recent studies (2004-2022) of the impact of prenatal physical activity on HDP or GDM.
  • The search yielded 11 studies to review, seven of which were meta-analyses and the remainder were prospective cohorts or randomised trials.


  • One of the largest meta-analyses, of about 2500 participants across seven studies, found that women randomised to aerobic exercise of 30-60 minutes duration for two to seven times per week (vs sedentary activity) have a significantly lower incidence of HDP (5.9% vs 8.5%; relative risk, 0.70).
  • The evidence for a specific reduction of preeclampsia (one of the HDPs) indicates a physical activity benefit across six case-control studies (23% risk reduction, ie, odds ratio [OR], 0.77) and one randomised study (sixfold improvement, ie, OR, 6.34), but no benefit in prospective cohort studies.
  • Studies show about a 50% reduction in GDM (another one of the HDPs) with physical activity during pregnancy, and up to 76% reduction in GDM with more vigorous physical activity (≥ 4.2 h/wk). Separately, physical activity both before and during pregnancy displayed a 69% lower risk for GDM.
  • High-risk women (eg, pregnant women who are obese) benefitted from physical activity during pregnancy with a 31% reduction of GDM (relative risk, 0.69).
  • The evidence is building for an exercise-induced secretion of anti-inflammatory adipokines and a reduction in proinflammatory cytokines as a physiological basis for explaining how physical activity may reduce the risk for HDP and GDM.