Health benefits of physical activity during pregnancy: an international perspective

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Feb;45(2):268-77. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31826cebcb.


While early studies on the effects of leisure time physical activity (LTPA) during pregnancy were concerned about possible harm to the mother or fetus, these fears have not been substantiated. Instead, a growing body of literature has documented several health benefits related to pregnancy LTPA. The purpose of this article was to synthesize evidence from epidemiological studies conducted in the United States, Canada, and Scandinavia on the benefits of LTPA and exercise during pregnancy with regard to maternal health, pregnancy outcomes, and child health. We focused on studies evaluating relations between pregnancy LTPA and gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders, excessive gestational weight gain, birth weight, timing of delivery, and child body composition. The bulk of evidence supports beneficial effects of pregnancy LTPA on each outcome; however, most previous studies have been observational and used self-reported LTPA at only one or two time points in pregnancy. Limitations of the current knowledge base and suggestions for future research on the health benefits of LTPA during pregnancy are provided.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Weight
  • Body Composition
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Diabetes, Gestational / epidemiology
  • Diabetes, Gestational / physiopathology
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Leisure Activities
  • Pre-Eclampsia / epidemiology
  • Pre-Eclampsia / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications / prevention & control*
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Risk Assessment
  • Scandinavian and Nordic Countries / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Weight Gain