Exercising while Pregnant Produces Results

Exercise before and during early pregnancy to boosts proteins

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Most doctors agree that modified physical activity and an exercise regimen during pregnancy is healthy for mom and baby.

Some studies also suggest that it can decrease the risk of preeclampsia, a dangerous condition that raises a pregnant woman's blood pressure. Recent research also shows that exercise before conception and in the early stages of pregnancy may also stimulate two important proteins for blood health.

"Exercising before and during pregnancy has many benefits."

The new study was led by Jeffrey Gilbert at the University of Oregon was conducted on female rats to analyze the proteins produced in their bodies during pregnancy and exercise. Female rats were separated into two groups - one that exercised and one that didn't.

The rats were later impregnated, and the two groups continued to either exercise (running on an activity wheel for six weeks prior to and during pregnancy) or not exercise.

Gilbert's team then analyzed tissue samples taken from both groups later in their pregnancies. The exercise group had high levels of a vascular growth protein, which stimulates the development of new blood vessels and promote good cardiovascular health.

When this protein increased, there was also increased function of the endothelium, a thin layer of cells that line the blood vessels. This allows blood to be pumped better and takes stress off the heart.

The exercise group also had increased amounts of heat shock proteins, which play a vital role in maintaining blood vessels of the heart. These increased proteins as a result of exercise could provide a pre-conditioning effect that could protect against placenta cellular damage, particularly in pregnancies complicated by high blood pressure.

Obstetrician Catherine Browne doesn't find the results surprising. "We see on a day to day basis that healthier women who are active during pregnancy tend to  have healthier pregnancies, shorter labors, and faster recoveries after birth of their children," she says.

Her practice partner, Jennifer Mushtaler, MD, agrees that exercise for women before and during pregnancy is highly beneficial but cautions about the data on rats translating into human correlation.

"Pre-eclampsia and preterm labor are two mysterious complications of pregnancy that continue to elude researchers. There has been much research into the involvement of endothelial cells and inflammatory mediators but theories continue to be controversial. Human trials would involve large numbers to show a statistically significant decrease in rates of pre-eclampsia."

Gilbert says that the findings do have important implications for understanding, and maybe even preventing, preeclampsia. “There have been many studies about exercise and pregnancy, but not at the molecular level,”

Gilbert said. “We hope to learn whether stimulating these proteins with exercise before pregnancy or early during pregnancy can lower a woman’s risk for preeclampsia.”

The research was presented at the Physiology of Cardiovascular Disease: Gender Disparities conference in October 2011, at the University of Mississippi.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 18, 2011
Last Updated:
October 19, 2011