The Role of Physical Activity in Preconception, Pregnancy and Postpartum Health

Semin Reprod Med. 2016 Mar;34(2):e28-37. doi: 10.1055/s-0036-1583530. Epub 2016 May 11.


The rise in obesity and associated morbidity is currently one of our greatest public health challenges. Women represent a high risk group for weight gain with associated metabolic, cardiovascular, reproductive and psychological health impacts. Regular physical activity is fundamental for health and well-being with protective benefits across the spectrum of women's health. Preconception, pregnancy and the early postpartum period represent opportune windows to engage women in regular physical activity to optimize health and prevent weight gain with added potential to transfer behavior change more broadly to children and families. This review summarizes the current evidence for the role of physical activity for women in relation to preconception (infertility, assisted reproductive therapy, polycystic ovary syndrome, weight gain prevention and psychological well-being) pregnancy (prevention of excess gestational weight gain, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia as well as labor and neonatal outcomes) and postpartum (lactation and breastfeeding, postpartum weight retention and depression) health. Beneficial outcomes validate the importance of regular physical activity, yet key methodological gaps highlight the need for large, high-quality studies to clarify the optimal type, frequency, duration and intensity of physical activity required for beneficial health outcomes during preconception, pregnancy and postpartum.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Female / etiology
  • Infertility, Female / physiopathology
  • Infertility, Female / prevention & control*
  • Infertility, Female / psychology
  • Life Style*
  • Maternal Health*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy Complications / prevention & control*
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Weight Gain