A study by UCJC on the benefits of exercising in pregnancy, National Award for Sports Medicine

The study entitled Gestational exercise and maternal and offspring health: analysis of two randomised clinical trials and long-term follow-up, led by María Perales, professor and Director of the Degree in Sports Science and Physical Activity at University Camilo José Cela, has been awarded the second prize in the 20th Liberbank National Prize for Research in Sports Medicine, one of the most prestigious awards in Spain and abroad, awarded by the University of Oviedo.

The study focuses on knowing the short-term and long-term cardio-metabolic benefits of gestational and pre-gestational exercise both in the pregnant woman and their children. The research included a total of 1,348 healthy pregnant women, all able to do physical exercise, selected through two randomized clinical trials conducted by the same research team, which also involved researchers from the Hospital 12 de Octubre, the European University of Madrid, the Polytechnic University of Madrid, the European University Miguel de Cervantes and the University of Alcalá.

The main short-term findings were related to the protective effect of gestational exercise in the prevention of high-blood pressure and gestational diabetes, excessive maternal weight gain and reduction of the risk of macrosomia in the newborn (being born over 4 kg in weight), key factors in the predisposition to overweight and postpartum obesity for the new generation.

The long-term benefits (with a follow-up of no more than 10 years after delivery), have shown that  gestational exercise is efficient in the recovery of pre-pregnancy weight in mothers as well as a lower risk of maternal cardiac complications after delivery, whereas in children it was shown to be effective in reducing the risk of being overweight and obesity during childhood, being especially significant during the first year of life.

 Women who did not usually do sports benefited most from exercise during pregnancy

The main strengths of this study, besides the use of important covariables during the postpartum period that could influence the effects of exercise (such as breastfeeding the newborn or maternal and child pre and postnatal habits), was the secondary analysis exploring these benefits as a function of four possible patterns of maternal sporting practice (active or inactive before and during pregnancy) finding that sedentary women before pregnancy who start a supervised exercise programme, and their children, benefited most from physical exercise, being significantly more receptive to the prevention of cardiometabolic diseases.

These findings coincide with those for the general sedentary population, but long-term effects in pregnant women had never before been explored. The relevance of these effects lies in the design of the physical exercise programme, its duration, the type of exercise performed, the high adherence to it by women and their individualisation depending on the needs of women.

The results of this study highlight the major role played by sports science professional in prescribing individualised physical exercise programmes for the early prevention of cardiometabolic diseases, diseases that due to their high prevalence worldwide are still a great concern to public health.