Int J Sports Med 2012; 33(08): 661-666
DOI: 10.1055/s-0032-1304635
Training & Testing
© Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart · New York

Walking Program of Low or Vigorous Intensity During Pregnancy Confers an Aerobic Benefit

S.-M. Ruchat
1   Kinesiology, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
M. H. Davenport
1   Kinesiology, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
I. Giroux
2   Food and Nutritional Sciences, Brescia University College, London, Canada
M. Hillier
1   Kinesiology, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
A. Batada
1   Kinesiology, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
M. M. Sopper
1   Kinesiology, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
J.-A. Hammond
3   Family Medicine, Schulich School of Medicine, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
M. Mottola
1   Kinesiology, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
4   Anatomy and Cell Biology, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
5   Children’s Health Research Institute, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

accepted after revision 31 January 2012

Publication Date:
17 April 2012 (online)


Walking is the most popular activity during pregnancy and may confer an aerobic benefit. However, the minimum intensity threshold of a maternal walking program for an aerobic conditioning response is unknown. The purpose was to examine the effect of a walking program of a low-intensity (LI, 30% heart rate reserve, HRR) or vigorous-intensity (VI, 70%HRR) on maternal cardiorespiratory responses to a standard submaximal treadmill test. Normal weight pregnant women were randomized at study entry (16–20 weeks of gestation) to the LI (n=23) or VI (n=21) walking program, with nutritional control. Participants performed a steady-state treadmill exercise test at their prescribed intensity pre- and post-intervention (34–36 weeks) to evaluate changes in cardiorespiratory responses. Increasing body mass due to pregnancy was similar between the groups throughout the study. From pre- to post-intervention, relative (mL kg − 1 min − 1) VO2 and VCO2 during steady-state submaximal treadmill exercise did not change in the LI group but decreased in the VI group (− 1.25±2.71, p=0.02 and  − 1.50±2.64, p=0.005, respectively). Both groups presented increases in oxygen pulse (p≤0.002). Our results showed that the energy cost of walking was not affected by the increase in maternal body weight in the LI group and was decreased in the VI group, suggesting an aerobic conditioning response in both groups, although the VI group presented a greater response. All women presented similar body mass throughout the intervention and delivered healthy babies, indicating that a prenatal walking program of low or vigorous intensity, combined with healthy eating habits, is safe and beneficial to the mother and fetus.

  • References

  • 1 American College of Sports Medicine . Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Exercise Prescription. 7th edition Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2005: 366
  • 2 Astrand P, Rodahl K, Dahl HA, Stromme SB. Textbook of Work Physiology: Physiological Bases of Exercise. 4th edition New-York: McGraw-Hill; 2003: 656
  • 3 Blackburn MW, Calloway DH. Basal metabolic rate and work energy expenditure of mature, pregnant women. J Am Diet Assoc 1976; 69: 24-28
  • 4 Clapp 3rd JF. Oxygen consumption during treadmill exercise before, during, and after pregnancy. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1989; 161: 1458-1464
  • 5 Clapp 3rd JF, Seaward BL, Sleamaker RH, Hiser J. Maternal physiologic adaptations to early human pregnancy. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1988; 159: 1456-1460
  • 6 Davenport MH, Charlesworth S, Vanderspank D, Sopper MM, Mottola MF. Development and validation of exercise target heart rate zones for overweight and obese pregnant women. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2008; 33: 984-989
  • 7 Davies GA, Wolfe LA, Mottola MF, MacKinnon C. Joint SOGC/CSEP clinical practice guideline: exercise in pregnancy and the postpartum period. Can J Appl Physiol 2003; 28: 330-341
  • 8 Giroux I, Inglis SD, Lander S, Gerrie S, Mottola MF. Dietary intake, weight gain, and birth outcomes of physically active pregnant women: a pilot study. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2006; 31: 483-489
  • 9 Gormley SE, Swain DP, High R, Spina RJ, Dowling EA, Kotipalli US, Gandrakota R. Effect of intensity of aerobic training on VO2max. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2008; 40: 1336-1343
  • 10 Harriss DJ, Atkinson G. Update - Ethical standards in sport and exercise science research. Int J Sports Med 2011; 32: 819-821
  • 11 Institute of Medicine . Institute of Medicine of the National Academies Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Reference for Dietary Planning and Assessment. Washington (DC): The National Academies Press; 2006: 560
  • 12 Institute of Medicine . Weight Gain During Pregnancy: Reexamining the Guidelines. Washington (DC): The National Academies Press,; 2009: 324
  • 13 Jensen D, Webb KA, O’Donnell DE. Chemical and mechanical adaptations of the respiratory system at rest and during exercise in human pregnancy. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2007; 32: 1239-1250
  • 14 Jensen D, Webb KA, Wolfe LA, O’Donnell DE. Effects of human pregnancy and advancing gestation on respiratory discomfort during exercise. Respir Physiol Neurobiol 2007; 156: 85-93
  • 15 Lotgering FK, Gilbert RD, Longo LD. Maternal and fetal responses to exercise during pregnancy. Physiol Rev 1985; 65: 1-36
  • 16 McAuley SE, Jensen D, McGrath MJ, Wolfe LA. Effects of human pregnancy and aerobic conditioning on alveolar gas exchange during exercise. Can J Physiol Pharmacol 2005; 83: 625-633
  • 17 Mottola MF. Performance in the pregnant woman: maternal and foetal considerations. In: Taylor N, Groeller H. (eds.). Physiological Bases of Human Performance During Work and Exercise. New-York: Elsvier; 2008: 225-237
  • 18 Mottola MF, Campbell MK. Activity patterns during pregnancy. Can J Appl Physiol 2003; 28: 642-653
  • 19 Mottola MF, Davenport MH, Brun CR, Inglis SD, Charlesworth S, Sopper MM. VO2peak prediction and exercise prescription for pregnant women. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2006; 38: 1389-1395
  • 20 Mottola MF, Giroux I, Gratton R, Hammond JA, Hanley A, Harris S, McManus R, Davenport MH, Sopper MM. Nutrition and exercise prevent excess weight gain in overweight pregnant women. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2010; 42: 265-272
  • 21 O’Toole ML. Physiologic aspects of exercise in pregnancy. Clin Obstet Gynecol 2003; 46: 379-389
  • 22 Ohtake PJ, Wolfe LA. Physical conditioning attenuates respiratory responses to steady-state exercise in late gestation. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1998; 30: 17-27
  • 23 Pernoll ML, Metcalfe J, Kovach PA, Wachtel R, Dunham MJ. Ventilation during rest and exercise in pregnancy and postpartum. Respir Physiol 1975; 25: 295-310
  • 24 Pernoll ML, Metcalfe J, Schlenker TL, Welch JE, Matsumoto JA. Oxygen consumption at rest and during exercise in pregnancy. Respir Physiol 1975; 25: 285-293
  • 25 Pivarnik JM, Lee W, Miller JF. Physiological and perceptual responses to cycle and treadmill exercise during pregnancy. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1991; 23: 470-475
  • 26 Rees GB, Broughton Pipkin F, Symonds EM, Patrick JM. A longitudinal study of respiratory changes in normal human pregnancy with cross-sectional data on subjects with pregnancy-induced hypertension. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1990; 162: 826-830
  • 27 Santos IA, Stein R, Fuchs SC, Duncan BB, Ribeiro JP, Kroeff LR, Carballo MT, Schmidt MI. Aerobic exercise and submaximal functional capacity in overweight pregnant women: a randomized trial. Obstet Gynecol 2005; 106: 243-249
  • 28 Swain DP, Franklin BA. VO(2) reserve and the minimal intensity for improving cardiorespiratory fitness. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2002; 34: 152-157
  • 29 Weissgerber TL, Wolfe LA. Physiological adaptation in early human pregnancy: adaptation to balance maternal-fetal demands. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2006; 31: 1-11
  • 30 Weissgerber TL, Wolfe LA, Davies GA, Mottola MF. Exercise in the prevention and treatment of maternal-fetal disease: a review of the literature. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2006; 31: 661-674
  • 31 World Health Organisation. Obesity: preventing and managing the global epidemic. Report of a WHO Consultation. WHO Technical Report Series 894. Geneva 2000
  • 32 Wolfe LA, Brenner IK, Mottola MF. Maternal exercise, fetal well-being and pregnancy outcome. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 1994; 22: 145-194
  • 33 Wolfe LA, Davies GA. Canadian guidelines for exercise in pregnancy. Clin Obstet Gynecol 2003; 46: 488-495
  • 34 Wolfe LA, Mottola MF. PARmed-X for Pregnancy. Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, Ottawa 2002; 1-4
  • 35 Wolfe LA, Ohtake PJ, Mottola MF, McGrath MJ. Physiological interactions between pregnancy and aerobic exercise. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 1989; 17: 295-351
  • 36 Wolfe LA, Walker RM, Bonen A, McGrath MJ. Effects of pregnancy and chronic exercise on respiratory responses to graded exercise. J Appl Physiol 1994; 76: 1928-1936
  • 37 Wolfe LA, Weissgerber TL. Clinical physiology of exercise in pregnancy: a literature review. J Obstet Gynaecol Can 2003; 25: 473-483