Exercise in pregnancy protects against high blood pressure

By Eva Martin, MD of Elm Tree Medical Inc.

I will never pass up the opportunity to write about new research studies on the benefits of exercise in pregnancy. For instance, I was recently excited to report on a cool study showing yoga is safe in pregnancy. So: here it is! I am excited to share with you the findings of a new randomized, clinical trial of exercise in pregnancy and the benefits to both mother and baby. Read on to learn more!

An intrepid group of PhD's from the Faculty of Physical Activity and Sports Sciences at the Technical University of Madrid, Spain recruited 765 pregnant women to participate in their study. They randomly divided the women into two groups. Half of the women were in the control group; these women received standard obstetric care. The other half of the women were in the exercise group. These lucky women received training sessions three times a week for about an hour, starting early in pregnancy until the very end: around 9 weeks to 39 weeks. The trainings consisted of aerobics, strength training, and stretching.

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The researchers wanted to learn whether the women in the two groups experienced differences in their pregnancy outcomes, including high blood pressure (hypertension), weight gain, gestational diabetes, preterm delivery, and low birth weight or high birth weight. The authors chose to study hypertension because it is a common and serious problem. 10% of pregnancies are affected by problems with high blood pressure.

In the past, studies on exercise have not accounted for the women who did not show up for their exercise classes. These researchers tracked how often women came to class and compared the women who were present for at least 80% of classes to the control group. The researchers found that women who attended the three classes a week were almost 3 times less likely to develop hypertension in pregnancy. The class-goers were also 1.5 times less likely to gain excessive weight in pregnancy, which can have lifelong benefits. The benefits of exercise extended to the infants, too! Pregnant women who exercised were 2.5 times less likely to deliver an infant with high birth weight (more than 4000 grams). They did not see a difference in preterm deliveries, however. 

The researchers also organized the data into groups based on the women's BMI: underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese. Did normal weight women also benefit from exercise? Or did just overweight and obese women benefit? Nope! Regardless of BMI, everyone benefited from exercise.

This exciting research lends yet another look into the endless benefits of staying physically active. Feeling inspired? If your doctor says it's ok, try out this yoga flow for pregnancy or call one of your girlfriends to go for a walk after work today instead of out to dinner. Happy exercising, fit mamas!