Exercise during pregnancy can reduce risk of major complications, U of A-led research finds

If you exercise while pregnant, you could decrease your chances of developing a major complication by 25 per cent, according to new University of Alberta-led research.

150 minutes of moderately intense exercise a week recommended

The new Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy says women who work out while pregnant can reduce their chances of developing a major complication. (Francis Dean/Corbis/Getty)

Exercising while pregnant could decrease the chances of developing a major complication by at least 25 per cent, according to new University of Alberta-led research.

The research is part of the 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy — the first guideline of its kind since 2003.

Margie Davenport is a cardiovascular health researcher at the U of A and was one of the lead researchers for the project.

"We found that women who exercise during pregnancy had a 40 per cent reduction in the risk of developing gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension and preeclampsia," she said, noting the research didn't find exercise increased the risk of having a miscarriage, small baby, or preterm birth.

Pregnant women should get 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise a week, according to the guideline from the Joint Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology.

Women should do a variety of aerobic exercise and resistance training from conception to delivery, Davenport said. Recommended exercises include walking, swimming and yard work.

Pregnant women should make sure they're medically cleared to exercise before lacing up their sneakers.

Davenport said work in her lab is beginning to explore exactly why exercise is beneficial to pregnant women.

Pregnant women understudied in past

The research team included experts from the U of A, Western University, and Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, along with midwives and exercise professionals. They evaluated all available research on exercising during pregnancy and drew the conclusions and recommendations from that.

Pregnant women have been understudied in the past, Davenport said.

"A lot of pregnant women are actually excluded from the majority of clinical trials," she said.

"And so in many ways it's actually quite amazing that we're even only now able to demonstrate the safety and benefits of being physically active throughout pregnancy, when many other populations, these fully evidence-based guidelines have been in place for decades."

Evidence-based research on the subject was fairly limited when the last guidelines were developed, she said.

"But in the subsequent 15 years, we've had essentially an explosion of research in the area," she said. "And so we were able to answer a lot of the outstanding questions that couldn't be addressed in previous iterations of the guidelines."