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Pregnancy Exercise May Influence Baby's Blood Pressure Later in Life

Katlyn Joy | 7, January 2015


A new study out of Michigan State University gives hope that children who weigh in at the low end of the scale may not have increased risks of hypertension later in life, if mom is physically active in pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester.

It's been a long held belief in the medical community that children born at lower birth weights tend to have high blood pressure later in life. However, this study is a glimpse at new research dealing with genetic preprogramming in utero. This study deals with a theory known as the fetal origins hypothesis. In this hypothesis, it is asserted that if something strenuous occurs in a woman's pregnancy during a critical period of the baby's development, there can be permanent health changes for the child.

James Pivarnik, lead author and kinesiology professor at Michigan State commented, "We looked at a range of normal birth weight babies, some falling at the lower end of the scale, and surprisingly we found that this lower birth weight and higher blood pressure relationship in these offspring is not supported if the women were physically active."

"The connection was disrupted, indicating that exercise may in some way alter cardiovascular risk that occurs in utero," he added.

For the study, 51 women were evaluated over a five year period, evaluating their physical activity such as running or walking during and after pregnancy. As part of the follow up to the study, researchers found that regular exercise, especially in the last trimester, was connected to lower blood pressure in their offspring.

Even more convincing was that when the team looked at the children at ages 8 to 10, they displayed significantly lower systolic blood pressure numbers if their mothers exercised at or above recommended levels.

Pivarnik concluded, "This is a good thing as it suggests that the regular exercise habits of the mother are good for heart health later in a child's life."

So just how much exercise should you be getting while pregnant?

According to the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, as long as a woman has no medical conditions that interfere with physical activity, she should adhere to the recommendations of both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine to exercise for an accumulation of 30 minutes daily, most days of the week.

ACOG references the lower risk of gestational diabetes in physically active expectant moms as one benefit of regular exercise. While overly strenuous exercise is associated with interuterine growth restriction especially along with deficient diets, in general most physical activity is good for pregnant women.

There are some conditions that absolutely rule out exercise, according to ACOG, including:

Some conditions may alter physical activity recommendations but will depend on the individual. Seek doctor's advice if you have the following:

  • A heavy smoking habit
  • Serious anemia
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Maternal cardiac arrhythmia
  • Type 1 diabetes, uncontrolled
  • Having a low BMI, under 12
  • Interuterine growth restriction
  • Uncontrolled hyperthyroidism
  • Seizure disorder not well controlled
  • Extreme morbid obesity
  • Poorly controlled high blood pressure

You should avoid participating in certain activities where the risk of falling or impact is high, such as basketball, soccer, hockey, gymnastics, horseback riding, downhill skiing and vigorous racquet sports. Women can generally exercise safely in altitudes up to 6000 feet, but above that, it may be dangerous.

Should any of the following occur during exercise, you need to stop and consult a doctor:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Dyspnea prior to exercise
  • Leaking amniotic fluid
  • Chest pain
  • Preterm labor
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Decreased fetal movement or activity

Additional caveats include to never scuba dive while pregnant, and during the last two trimesters of pregnancy, do not stand motionless for extended periods or lie flat on the back.

Related Articles

High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy

High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy Signals Later Heart Disease

How Pregnancy Changes Your Sex Life

Exercise and Pregnancy

Pregnancy Exercise - What is Safe


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