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Spotlight on the fetus: how physical activity during pregnancy influences fetal health: a narrative review
  1. Ilena Bauer1,2,
  2. Julia Hartkopf1,2,
  3. Stephanie Kullmann1,2,3,
  4. Franziska Schleger1,2,
  5. Manfred Hallschmid1,2,4,
  6. Jan Pauluschke-Fröhlich5,
  7. Andreas Fritsche1,2,3,
  8. Hubert Preissl1,2,3,6
  1. 1Institute for Diabetes Research and Metabolic Diseases (IDM) of the Helmholtz Center Munich at the University of Tübingen/fMEG Center, Tübingen, Germany
  2. 2German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD e.V.), University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany
  3. 3Department of Internal Medicine IV, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetology, and Nephrology, University Hospital Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany
  4. 4Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany
  5. 5Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany
  6. 6Department of Pharmacy and Biochemistry, Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences; Interfaculty Centre for Pharmacogenomics and Pharma Research, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Ilena Bauer; ilena.bauer{at}


Before and during pregnancy, women often aim to improve their lifestyle so as to provide a healthier environment for their developing child. It remains unresolved, however, as to whether physical activity (PA) during pregnancy poses a possible risk or whether it might even have beneficial effects on the developing child. There is increasing evidence that PA during pregnancy is indeed beneficial to maternal physiological and psychological health and that it is generally not detrimental to the fetal cardiovascular system and neuronal function in the developing child. This also led to international recommendations for PAs during pregnancy. In the current review, we aimed to comprehensively assess the evidence of beneficial and harmful effects of maternal PA, including high-performance sports, on fetal development. The different mental and body-based relaxation techniques presented here are frequently performed during pregnancy. We found a considerable number of studies addressing these issues. In general, neither low key, moderate maternal PA nor relaxation techniques were observed to have a harmful effect on the developing child. However, we identified some forms of PA which could have at least a transient unfavourable effect. Notably, the literature currently available does not provide enough evidence to enable us to make a general conclusive statement on this subject. This is due to the lack of longitudinal studies on the metabolic and cognitive effects of regular PA during pregnancy and the wide diversity of methods used. In particular, the kind of PA investigated in each study differed from study to study.

  • exercise
  • physical activity
  • pregnancy
  • review
  • women

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  • Contributors IB did the search for literature, interpreted the literature and wrote the manuscript. JH, SK and IB conceptualised the work and revised it critically. JP-F, FS, MH, AF and HP revised the manuscript critically for important intellectual content. All authors read and approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was partially funded by the German Center of Diabetes Research (DZD e.V), Tübingen, Germany and the Centre for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN), Tübingen, Germany (Mini Research Training Group, CIN/EXC 307).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement There are no data in this work.