Pregnancy Workouts are Good for Your Heart

Heart health in pregnant moms

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

(RxWiki News) Working out before and during early pregnancy is good for heart health. Researchers believe that exercise can help pregnant moms increase their cardiovascular health - and it could even help prevent preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia is a serious condition that endangers the health of both mother and baby. It occurs in 6-8% of pregnancies in the U.S., says the National Institutes of Health.

The condition usually develops in the late 2nd or 3rd trimester of pregnancy, and delivery of the baby is often needed to stop a woman from having a seizure, stroke or other conditions.

Researchers have been looking for prevention and treatment methods for preeclampsia for quite some time, and if exercise can improve cardiovascular health in pregnant women – as the latest study suggests – then researchers are hoping it will prevent preeclampsia too.

"Exercise fights off high blood pressure - speak with your OB/GYN. "

The researchers studied the effect of exercise in rats that were later impregnated. The rats were divided into two groups: an exercise group that ran on a wheel for six weeks before and during pregnancy, while the second group didn’t exercise.

The study found that the exercising rats had greater levels of a protein - called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) – that helps new blood vessels grow and helps keep blood vessels functioning.

This is an important finding because it shows exercise has a beneficial effect on blood vessels and cardiovascular health during pregnancy. More importantly, it may help researchers prevent preeclampsia, says lead researcher Jeffrey Gilbert, assistant professor at the University of Oregon’s Department of Human Physiology.

The team also found that when the special protein VEGF increased, blood vessel function increased. According to the researchers, VEGF caused a thin layer of cells inside the blood vessels to toughen up, so to speak, and calm the turbulent flow of blood through the vessels. This in turn took stress off the heart.

Since the study was only performed on rats, further investigation is needed to find out whether the effect is the same in humans.

Gilbert said in a press release that he hopes to learn whether their findings on exercise and pregnancy can help reduce a woman’s risk for preeclampsia.

This observational study was presented at the conference “Physiology of Cardiovascular Disease: Gender Disparities,” sponsored by the American Physiological Society.

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Last Updated:
March 30, 2012