In this review of recent research on prenatal exercise, studies from several different countries suggest that only approximately 40% of pregnant women exercise, even though about 92% are encouraged by their physicians to exercise, albeit with some 69% of the women being advised to limit their exercise. A moderate exercise regime reputedly increases infant birthweight to within the normal range, but only if exercise is decreased in late pregnancy. Lower intensity exercise such as water aerobics has decreased low back pain more than land-based physical exercise. Heart rate and blood pressure have been lower following yoga than walking, and complications like pregnancy-induced hypertension with associated intrauterine growth retardation and prematurity have been less frequent following yoga. No studies could be found on tai chi with pregnant women even though balance and the risk of falling are great concerns during pregnancy, and tai chi is one of the most effective forms of exercise for balance. Potential underlying mechanisms for exercise effects are that stimulating pressure receptors during exercise increases vagal activity which, in turn, decreases cortisol, increases serotonin and decreases substance P, leading to decreased pain. Decreased cortisol is particularly important inasmuch as cortisol negatively affects immune function and is a significant predictor of prematurity. Larger, more controlled trials are needed before recommendations can be made about the type and amount of pregnancy exercise.
Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.