Physical exercise in pregnancy: benefits, risks and prescription

J Perinat Med. 2021 Sep 6;50(1):4-17. doi: 10.1515/jpm-2021-0315. Print 2022 Jan 27.


Objectives: The aim of this article is to provide a comprehensive literature review, gathering the strongest evidence about the risks and benefits and the prescription of physical exercise during pregnancy.

Content: Regular physical exercise during pregnancy is associated with numerous benefits. In general women are not adequately advised on this matter. Along with their concerns regarding the potential associated risks, it contributes to the abandonment or refusal to start exercising during pregnancy. A systematic review was conducted in MEDLINE including articles considered to have the highest level of scientific evidence. Fifty-seven articles, including 32 meta-analysis, 9 systematic reviews and 16 randomized controlled trials were included in the final literature review.

Summary: Exercise can help preventing relevant pregnancy related disorders, such as gestational diabetes, excessive gestational weight gain, hypertensive disorders, urinary incontinence, fetal macrosomia, lumbopelvic pain, anxiety and prenatal depression. Exercise is not related with an increased risk of maternal or perinatal adverse outcomes. Compliance with current guidelines is sufficient to achieve the main benefits, and exercise type and intensity should be based on woman's previous fitness level.

Outlook: Exercise in pregnancy is safe for both mother and fetus, contributing to prevent pregnancy related disorders. Exercise type and intensity should be adapted to woman's previous fitness level, medical history and characteristics of the ongoing pregnancy.

Keywords: outcome; physical activity; physical exercise; pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Exercise* / physiology
  • Exercise* / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy / physiology
  • Pregnancy / psychology
  • Pregnancy Complications / prevention & control*
  • Prenatal Care / methods*