Pre-eclampsia risk with too much exercise in pregnancy

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Pre-eclampsia risk with too much exercise in pregnancy

Key points
  • A study of 85,00 pregnant women suggests that women who jog for more than 1 hour and 15 minutes a week are raising their risk of pre-eclampsia
  • It was thought that exercise during pregnancy would lower blood pressure and pre-eclampsia risk, but this study suggests that the reverse is the case
  • Pregnant women are currently recommended to take 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per day, at the moment, this advice has not changed

A study involving more than 85,000 pregnant women has turned the current theory about exercise, pregnancy and blood pressure on its head.

It has been thought that being moderately active during pregnancy would help the heart and arteries to stay flexible and help to keep blood pressure down. To try to prove this theory, researchers studied the medical data of 85,000 women who were pregnant between 1996 and 2002. They found that jogging for more than one hour and 15 minutes a week doubled the risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

Pre-eclampsia is a form of high blood pressure that affects 1 in 14 women and can lead to life-threatening problems in 1 in 100 pregnancies. The only way to ‘cure’ pre-eclampsia is by giving birth, meaning that life-threatening problems require induced labour to deliver the baby.

Early delivery can come with serious complications that lead to 1,000 babies being lost and 10 mothers dying every year.

Writing in the British Journal of Obstretrics and Gynaecology, the researchers equated the amount of exercise pregnant women undertook with their risk of developing pre-eclampsia:

Level of exercise a week Increase in risk of pre-eclampsia Overall risk of pre-eclampsia
1 hour 15 minutes Double 7%
4.5 hours to 7 hours 65% 18%
More than 7 hours  78% 29%

In other words, for women who exercise for more than 1 hour a day, they have a 3 in 10 chance of developing pre-eclampsia.

Current advice is to continue to be moderately active during pregnancy as this may help to keep the body in good health. But it is advisable to avoid excessive exercise or particularly vigorous activities as this may put the body under unnecessary stress.


Østerdal ML, Strøm M, Klemmensen ÅK et al. Does leisure time physical activity in early pregnancy protect against pre-eclampsia? Prospective cohort in Danish women. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 2008; DOI 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2008.02001.

Topics: High Blood Pressure in the news, Lifestyle, High blood pressure

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