A prospective study of the association between vigorous physical activity during pregnancy and length of gestation and birthweight

Matern Child Health J. 2012 Jul;16(5):1031-44. doi: 10.1007/s10995-011-0831-8.


Current US pregnancy-related physical activity recommendations do not provide specific guidance for vigorous intensity activity. We examined the associations between vigorous physical activity during pregnancy and length of gestation and birthweight.

Methods: Women were recruited before 10 weeks gestation. At 13-16 weeks gestation, participants reported the type, frequency, and duration of their typical weekly vigorous physical activities. Activity domains included recreational, occupational, household, and child/adult care. Infant birth date was obtained from medical or vital records; if unavailable, self-report was used. Birthweight (from vital records) was studied among term births. We analyzed gestational age among 1,647 births using discrete-time survival analysis. We used logistic and linear regression to analyze preterm birth (birth at <37 weeks) and birthweight, respectively. Vigorous recreational activity was associated with longer gestation (any vs. none, hazard ratio (HR) [95% CI]: 0.85 [0.70, 1.05]) and we did not detect any dose-response association. Higher frequency of vigorous recreational activity sessions (adjusted for total volume of activity) was associated with a decreased odds of preterm birth (≥ 4 sessions/week vs. 0 or 1, OR [95% CI]: 0.08 (0.006, 1.0). Birthweight was not associated with physical activity measures. In summary, vigorous physical activity does not appear to be detrimental to the timing of birth or birthweight. Our data support a reduced risk of preterm birth with vigorous recreational activity, particularly with increased frequency of recreational activity sessions. Future studies should investigate the components of physical activity (i.e., intensity, duration, and frequency) in relation to birth outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Weight*
  • Child
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Gestational Age*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Motor Activity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Pregnancy Trimesters / physiology
  • Premature Birth
  • Prospective Studies
  • Recreation
  • Self Report
  • Surveys and Questionnaires