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The Impact of Symptom Type and Frequency on Activity Level During Pregnancy

Andringa, Kimberly R. PhD, MSPH1; Bardsley, Tyler MS2; Herring, Amy H. ScD3; Yeo, SeonAe PhD, RNC, FAAN4

Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy: January/April 2013 - Volume 37 - Issue 1 - p 4–10
doi: 10.1097/JWH.0b013e318287e0e5
Research Reports

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.

1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

2Pediatric Administration, University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

3Department of Biostatistics, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

4School of Nursing, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The authors thank the Center for Women's Health Research at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Dr John Thorp, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for their support of Mr Bardsley's time on this project. The authors also thank all the women and their children for participating in the original study.

This original study was funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research (grant R01 NR05002) from August 2001 to April 2006.

Dr Andringa was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship (National Institute of Nursing Research, grant T32 NR007091) through the School of Nursing, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, during the initial work on this study.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Copyright © 2013 by the Section on Women's Health, American Physical Therapy Association.
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