5 surprising science-backed reasons to exercise during pregnancy


Jessica Ennis-Hill's physiotherapist Ali Rose explains why staying active during your pregnancy is good for body, baby and mind…

It’s certainly not breaking news that exercise is brilliantly beneficial for our health and wellbeing. But, when it comes to pregnancy exercise, there are lots of myths and misconceptions that mean people still feel unclear as to what’s best and why. Here, Ali Rose, Jess’ physio, clears a few things up.


1. Exercise can reduce common pregnancy issues 

Pregnancy is a time of huge excitement and anticipation and can bring positive physical side effects (Jess loved her new boobs, for example). But it can also bring a series of less positive side effects, such as fatigue, constipation, varicose veins and good-old swollen feet and ankles. The good news, however, is that exercising regularly can reduce these conditions. On the flip side, being sedentary during pregnancy (desk-based jobs don’t help) can result in reduced cardiovascular and muscular fitness, excessive weight gain, increased risk of developing gestational diabetes and varicose veins. Seems pretty compelling to us.

"Research suggests that the babies of exercising women may tolerate labour better than those of non-exercising women."

2. Joint pain can be lessened 

Unsurprisingly, pregnancy has a huge effect on the structure of our bodies, with the size of that growing bump changing our body’s alignment and putting stress on our muscles and joints. In addition, the hormone relaxin is released from the beginning of pregnancy to increase the looseness of the ligaments around the pelvis. This is the body’s very clever way of helping it to expand during labour. Unfortunately, the relaxin effect isn’t just confined to the pelvis, with the hips, shoulders, and foot and ankle joints also affected – and a knock-on risk of pelvic pain, back problems and hypermobility (where things get too stretchy). The good news is that strengthening, stabilising and balance exercises can help reduce pelvic pain and other problems by supporting the ligaments and joints. 


3. It can help to manage weight-related issues 

Excessive weight gain (in addition to normal baby weight gain - 10-15 kg) during pregnancy can be a big problem for many women, and exercise, along with a healthy diet, can help to minimise this. Regular weight-bearing exercise (which we’ve included in the Jennis Pregnancy Plan), in particular, has been shown to improve the fitness of both mother and child and reduce excessive weight without affecting the growth of the baby. It’s also been linked with helping to protect against coronary heart disease, osteoporosis and high blood pressure, as well as improve bone density.


4. Exercise can have an effect on labour 

Research suggests that the babies of exercising women may tolerate labour better than those of non-exercising women. Studies also suggest that foetal stress during labour is less in women who continue to exercise, even at 50% of the levels they were doing pre-pregnancy, compared with those who exercised before pregnancy and then stopped within the first trimester. The other bonus is that weight-bearing exercise and greater levels of fitness can speed up recovery after the birth.


5. Staying fit can reduce the risk of postnatal depression and other mental health issues 

A 2017 study into postnatal depression compared aerobic exercise with other tools such as medication, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and self-help books and showed that the positive impact of aerobic exercise on postnatal depression was significant. From this, the authors have suggested that aerobic exercise should be taken into consideration to both treat and reduce the risk of postnatal depression. In addition, women who exercise during pregnancy have been shown to experience less stress, anxiety, and have better sleep patterns than those who don’t.



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