Benefits of Physical Activity during Pregnancy and Postpartum: An Umbrella Review

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 Jun;51(6):1292-1302. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001941.


Purpose: This study aimed to summarize the evidence from the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report, including new evidence from an updated search of the effects of physical activity on maternal health during pregnancy and postpartum.

Methods: An initial search was undertaken to identify systematic reviews and meta-analyses published between 2006 and 2016. An updated search then identified additional systematic reviews and meta-analyses published between January 2017 and February 2018. The searches were conducted in PubMed®, CINAHL, and Cochrane Library and supplemented through hand searches of reference lists of included articles and reported according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines.

Results: The original and updated searches yielded a total of 76 systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Strong evidence demonstrated that moderate-intensity physical activity reduced the risk of excessive gestational weight gain, gestational diabetes, and symptoms of postpartum depression. Limited evidence suggested an inverse relationship between physical activity and risk of preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, and antenatal anxiety and depressive symptomology. Insufficient evidence was available to determine the effect of physical activity on postpartum weight loss, postpartum anxiety, and affect during both pregnancy and postpartum. For all health outcomes, there was insufficient evidence to determine whether the relationships varied by age, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or prepregnancy weight status.

Conclusions: The gestational period is an opportunity to promote positive health behaviors that can have both short- and long-term benefits for the mother. Given the low prevalence of physical activity in young women in general, and the high prevalence of obesity and cardiometabolic diseases among the U.S. population, the public health importance of increasing physical activity in women of childbearing age before, during, and after pregnancy is substantial.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research
  • Depression, Postpartum / prevention & control
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Gestational Weight Gain / physiology
  • Humans
  • Maternal Health
  • Postpartum Period / physiology*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Pregnancy / physiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications / prevention & control
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Weight Loss / physiology