Why Exercise Before Pregnancy May Benefit Expecting Moms

Exercising regularly before pregnancy may reduce pelvic girdle pain


Pelvic pain during pregnancy is one of those uncomfortable byproducts of motherhood. But staying active in the months prior may help.

A new study from Norway found that moms-to-be who exercised between three and five times per week before becoming pregnant had a lower risk of pelvic girdle pain (PGP) during pregnancy. High-impact exercises like jogging, ball games and aerobics were linked to the greatest risk reduction.

PGP is a general term for any type of pain that is linked to joint and ligament changes prompted by pregnancy. Pain levels can vary from woman to woman.

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, PGP affects 1 in 5 pregnant women and can severely affect a woman’s mobility and quality of life.

For this study, a team of researchers led by Katrine Mari Owe, PhD, used data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study to look at more than 39,000 Norwegian women who were expecting their first child between 2000 and 2009. These women ranged in age from 14 to 46, with an average age of 38.

Dr. Owe is an expert in epidemiology, public health and sports medicine at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo.

During the 17th week of pregnancy, these women were asked about any exercise they participated in during the three months before becoming pregnant.

Exercise frequency ranged from never to at least three times per week, and included 13 different types of exercise: jogging, brisk walking, cycling, weight training, swimming, ball games, horseback riding, cross country skiing, dancing, and low-impact, high-impact or prenatal aerobics.

During the 30th week of pregnancy, they were asked about the frequency and intensity of any PGP they experienced.

About 56 percent of the women reported exercising at least three times per week in the three months prior to pregnancy. By comparison, 7 percent reported not exercise at all during this time.

About 11 percent of the women who exercised reported PGP by week 30. For those who didn't exercise, that number was at 13 percent.

The women who engaged in high-impact exercises, such as jogging, high-impact aerobics and ball games were the least likely to report PGP.

High-impact exercise between three and five times per week was linked to a 14 percent lowered risk of PGP by the 30th week of pregnancy. No additional benefit was found for exercising more than five times per week.

Women with PGP were also more likely to smoke, have a history of depression, be overweight, be younger than 25 and have back pain than women without PGP.

Confounding factors, such as age, body mass index, education, smoking history and back pain history were accounted for.

This study was published Oct. 7 in the journal The BMJ.