Pre-pregnancy exercise

Introduction to exercise before pregnancy

Exercise during pregnancy is usually safe and beneficial for both the mother and foetus and this positive effect is even more pronounced in women who are physically active before they become pregnant.

The exercise habits women have before they become pregnant will largely dictate whether they will engage in exercise during their pregnancy. Those women who are physically active and well informed about the benefits of exercise in pregnancy are likely to engage in a healthy exercise program until late gestation.

Although physical activity is common among women prior to pregnancy, approximately 60% of women are physically inactive during their pregnancy and many women perceive even low intensity exercise as unsafe for themselves and their foetus.

Pre-pregnancy exercise and psychology

Pre-pregnancy exerciseMood disturbances during pregnancy are more common than mood disturbances after pregnancy (for example, postnatal depression), but both are significant concerns for pregnant women. One theory behind depressive symptoms in early pregnancy is that women seem to be especially concerned about their body image during this time.

Inactivity is associated with worse mood and the significant decline that is seen in exercise in pregnant women is related to worsening mood. Pre-pregnancy exercise is linked to improved body image and mood and is generally an essential intervention for women’s psychological health during pregnancy.

Anxiety and fatigue have also been shown to be decreased in pregnant women who are regular exercisers.

Gestational weight gain

Excessive weight gain during pregnancy is an increasingly prevalent issue and is related to negative health consequences. Low pre-pregnancy physical activity levels are associated with a greater risk of excessive weight gain during pregnancy.

Postpartum weight retention is also lessened in women who are physically active before pregnancy and maintained physical activity throughout their pregnancy.

More information on weight gain in pregnancy.

Maternal foetal-disease

Women who are physically active before they become pregnant have lower rates of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia than those who are not. It follows that the incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes are decreased in both mother and child of women who engage in regular exercise.


Exercise can have both a negative and positive effect on conception.

Pre-pregnancy exerciseFor most women, exercise increases insulin sensitivity which improves ovarian function and increases the probability of conception. For elite athletes and women who engage in intense physical training the reproductive system may be negatively affected by the stress of physical activity. When women are aiming to conceive evidence suggests that women who engage in high intensity and frequency levels of physical activity have higher infertility levels. Elite athletes often experience exercise-related menstrual irregularities (ERMI) which are associated with problems conceiving. There are also theories which pose that the ERMI are related to diet rather than exercise with suggestions that a critical percentage of body fat is required before normal menstruation can occur. If elite athletes are not consuming appropriate energy intake to compensate for energy expenditure then this could account for menstrual irregularities.

If you are a vigorous exerciser and you are trying to conceive, you should discuss your exercise program with your doctor. You may need to reduce the intensity of your training during this time or increase your energy intake.

Conversely, sedentary women have a higher incidence of obesity which has a significant effect on infertility. Obesity reduces the chance of conception and response to fertility treatment as well as increases the risk of miscarriage, congenital abnormalities, pregnancy complications and long term negative health consequences for mother and child.

Before trying to conceive women should ensure that their body mass index is at least below 35kg/m2, preferably below 30kg/m2. Exercise before pregnancy and conception is essential for weight loss. Even a body weight loss of 5-10% can help to restore fertility.

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More information on health risks of being overweight before pregnancy.

More information

Pregnancy For more information about pregnancy, including preconception advice, stages of pregnancy, investigations, complications, living with pregnancy and birth, see Pregnancy.
Pregnancy and exercise For more information about pregnancy and exercise, including pre-pregnancy exercise, suitable types of exercise, risks and benefits of exercise and exercise myths, see Pregnancy and Exercise.
Fitness For more information on fitness and exercise, including stretches, types of exercise, exercise recovery and exercise with health conditions, as well as some useful videos, see Fitness
Pregnancy planning For more information about pregnancy planning, including importance of nutrition before pregnancy, being under-weight, being overweight, tobacco exposure and alcohol consumption, see Pregnancy Planning (Preconception Advice).



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