Physical Activity During Pregnancy: What Are the Current Guidelines?

James M. Pivarnik, PhD, FACSM


June 16, 2010

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I'm Jim Pivarnik. I'm a professor of kinesiology and epidemiology at Michigan State University. I'm the current president of the American College of Sports Medicine, and I study physical activity and exercise during pregnancy in the postpartum period.

We've certainly come a long way in the last 25 years. The most current guidelines for physical activity during pregnancy were put out in 2008 along with the physical activity guidelines for Americans. We discussed pregnancy in those guidelines and there were 2 major foci.

One was the average woman who wasn't particularly an exerciser. At this point, we know of no reason why women who are not particularly athletic but are having a normal pregnancy cannot do the same amount of exercise as anybody else, and that includes 150 minutes a week of some moderate physical activity. There's no reason she shouldn't do that. There are some things she should avoid: blunt trauma type activities such as water skiing or something similar where there could be falling; maybe playing volleyball where she's diving for a ball. Certainly walking, swimming, cycling, these sorts of activities are great exercises for any pregnant woman no matter what her fitness level. We don't really use a heart rate as a guide; we use the woman's own body. Basically how does she feel? If she feels fine, if she can talk while she's exercising, that's great. She needs to heed warning symptoms. If she gets dizziness, lightheadedness, cramping, pain, things like that, then certainly stop and see a physician, but if not she can continue to exercise well throughout her pregnancy.

The other group that we discussed in those guidelines was the very athletic women. There is no reason or evidence that an athletic woman who becomes pregnant needs to significantly back off her normal routine. Her body will tell her when she needs to do it. Again, the same rules are avoid blunt trauma, but beyond that there's no reason why she can't continue her running or harder swimming or whatever it is she's doing as long as she feels up to it.

I think we have come a long way and we're learning more and more every day. We're trying to learn how much exercise is good in terms of preventing maladies of pregnancy such as pregnancy induced hypertension and gestational diabetes, but for your average woman what I said goes: she can continue to do as much as her body will let her do. So, that's exciting news that I think every pregnant woman wants to hear, and it's exciting that we're now getting the word out.

I'd like to thank you for watching this video from the American College of Sports Medicine. I appreciate your interest in the topic and hope you'll share all of this information with your patients.

Web Resource

CDC: Physical Activity for Everyone: Guidelines: Healthy Pregnant or Postpartum Women. Available at: Accessed June 10, 2010.


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