Exercise for Health During Pregnancy

By: Dr. Laura Wenger, PT, OCS

I found it fitting to write a blog about health and exercise during pregnancy given that I’m 39 weeks pregnant and getting ready to welcome baby girl any day now! The good news is that there is a lot of content to pull from out there, as researchers continue to find more and more benefits of exercise whether or not you are growing another human inside of you. One of the latest research studies, a randomized controlled trial out of Brazil, confirms some of these benefits.(1)

The researchers split up 456 pregnant women into two groups: one was the “control group” that received standardized obstetrics care, and general nutrition and physical activity counseling, while the other was the “exercise group” that participated in a structured and supervised hour-long exercise program three days per week from weeks 8-10 of pregnancy until the the end of their third trimester right before having their babies.(1) This supervised exercise program consisted of a gradual warm-up, aerobic exercises, light muscle strengthening, coordination and balance exercises, stretching exercises, pelvic floor strengthening, and relaxation at the end.(1)

Sneaking in a little exercise between patients on my second to last day before maternity leave!

The research looked at two main outcomes, maternal weight gain and gestational diabetes diagnosis, to try to compare the two groups and to see if there were any positive effects of the structured and supervised exercise, and here is what they found(1):

  • The women in the exercise group had significantly lower weight gain, within normal amounts
  • The amount of women diagnosed with gestational diabetes was lower in the exercise group

Given all that is known about the positive effects of exercise in general, those results should not be surprising to anyone. However, it’s nice to see that just three hours of low- to moderate- exercise per week- which can feel tough for some women to accomplish during pregnancy depending on how they are feeling on any given day- can make such a positive difference in health. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to use the daily movements and tasks of my job as my main exercise program throughout this pregnancy, and I definitely credit a lot of my ability to maintain good health throughout these past 39 weeks to my sustained activity levels even if I haven’t felt up to my usual exercise regimen of hiking, running, and biking during this time. If you are pregnant, make sure you talk with your care provider to ensure that exercise is safe for you and make sure to reach out to physical therapist if you need help establishing a well-rounded and safe exercise program to help as your body changes.

  1. Barakat R, Refoyo I, et al. Exercise during pregnancy has a preventative effect on excessive maternal weight gain and gestational diabetes. A randomized controlled trial. Braz J Phys Ther. 2019;23(2):148-155.