Objective: The primary research question for this study was: Do symptoms during pregnancy relate to the amount of physical activity undertaken by women at heightened risk for preeclampsia?
Study Design: This is a secondary data analysis of prospective data collected from a randomized intervention study.
Background: Physical activity during pregnancy reduces health risks, yet the majority of pregnant women are sedentary. Physical symptoms during pregnancy may be a barrier to activity. Given the ubiquity of symptoms in pregnancy, we identified a need for more information regarding the link between symptoms and physical activity.
Methods and Measures: The original study looked at the impact of 2 exercise routines on the incidence of preeclampsia: walking (n = 64) and stretching (n = 60). Our primary analysis evaluated the connection between self-reported symptoms and physical activity as measured by steps per day.
Results: Most of the commonly reported exercise-associated symptoms (breathlessness, chest pain, leg cramping, muscle pain, and abdominal pain) were not significant predictors of physical activity. However, women who experienced multiple symptoms during pregnancy exercised less. Greater maternal weight and nonwhite race were also associated with fewer steps per day. Women also significantly reduced their level of activity around 28-week gestation and continued to decrease activity until delivery.
Conclusions: These findings suggest the need for anticipatory prenatal guidance regarding symptoms and the safety of exercise with these symptoms. Health care providers may need to offer additional encouragement or interventions for women who are extremely obese and for those from racial minorities to increase physical activity during pregnancy.