Influence of endurance exercise and diet on human placental development and fetal growth

Placenta. 2006 Jun-Jul;27(6-7):527-34. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2005.07.010. Epub 2005 Sep 13.


The delivery of oxygen and substrate to the maternal-fetal interphase is the major maternal environmental stimulus which either up- or down-regulates feto-placental growth. During pregnancy, sustained exercise sessions cause an intermittent reduction in oxygen and substrate delivery to the interphase that may exceed 50% during the exercise but, it is probable that regular bouts of sustained exercise or exercise training may improve oxygen and substrate delivery at rest. The type of maternal carbohydrate intake (low- versus high-glycemic sources) and food intake frequency also influence substrate availability through their effects on maternal blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity. As a result, different exercise regimens and/or different types of carbohydrate intake modify feto-placental growth. The magnitude and direction of the effect is determined by their average 24-h effect on oxygen and substrate availability at different time-points in pregnancy. In general, exercise in early and mid pregnancy stimulates placental growth while the relative amount of exercise in late pregnancy determines its effect on late fetal growth. Low-glycemic food sources in the diet decrease growth rate and size at birth while high-glycemic food sources increase it. Thus, it may be possible to improve pregnancy outcomes in both healthy, low-risk women and a variety of high-risk populaces by simply modifying maternal physical activity and dietary carbohydrate intake during pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dietary Carbohydrates*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Glycemic Index / physiology
  • Humans
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Placenta / embryology*
  • Placenta / physiology*
  • Pregnancy


  • Dietary Carbohydrates