Physical Activity Assessment During Gestation and Its Outcomes: A Review

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Abstract

Background

Physical activity recommendations emphasize a positive influence of exercise on health. It is particularly recognized during pregnancy for both the mother and fetus.

Aim

This review aims to identify the main trends of activity undertaken by women during gestation and to find out how it affects the expecting mother and her child.

Methods

Review of the literature comprising the following databases: PubMed, Academic Search Complete, Health Source—Consumer Edition, Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition, EMBASE (2000 to May 2013), used detailed search strategies. The review was restricted to experimental studies. Trials were excluded if they met any of the following criteria: reviews, letters, commentaries or editorials, only abstracts available, and any kind of pathology during pregnancy. Three assessors reviewed the titles, abstracts, and full articles using standardized data abstraction forms, and they assessed the study quality. A total of 474 potential articles remained for analyses.

Findings

Twenty-eight articles were eligible for inclusion in the present review: randomized controlled trials and observational studies that evaluated maternal and offspring outcomes as a result of physical activity during pregnancy. Quasi-randomized trials were excluded. The activities that were most frequently assessed included occupational activity, housework/caregiving, sport/exercise, and active living, as well as habits. The authors evaluated different types of physical activity in the loading conditions. The aerobic activities most frequently used for assessment included treadmill walking program; step aerobics or stair stepper; aerobics; bicycle ergometer; combination of rowing, stationary cycling, and walk jogging; rhythmic calisthenics class and step class; brisk walks; stretching; and relaxation. The benefits following being active during pregnancy are associated with improved maternal psychological well-being, a reduced risk of preterm birth and excessive gestational weight gain, and lower risk of birth-related complications.

Conclusions

Patterns of activity change during pregnancy. Although exercise is safe for both the mother and fetus, most women reduce their activity level during the first weeks of gestation. Specifically, physical activity tends to be of lower duration, frequency, and intensity. Therefore, women should be encouraged by professionals to initiate or continue exercising during a healthy pregnancy.

Target Audience

Obstetricians and gynecologists, family physicians.

Learning Objectives

After completing this activity, the learner should be better able to identify the main trends among pregnant women in terms of physical activity, investigate the main benefits following exercising during pregnancy, recognize the most popular forms of physical activity in pregnant population, and realize health professionals to make women more aware of the importance of exercise.

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