Exercise benefits possible for high blood pressure during pregnancy

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Findings published in the December, 2012 issue of the journal Hypertension shows exercise for pregnant women with high blood pressure, also known as gestational hypertension, might be beneficial, contrary to popular belief.

Human physiology professor Jeff Gilbert at University of Oregon and his team found exercising before and during pregnancy could help prevent preeclampsia that occurs in 5 to 8 percent of pregnancies and poses health dangers to mother and fetus.

"The data from our study raise the possibility that exercise regimens if started before pregnancy and maintained through most of gestation may be an important way for women to mitigate the risk of preeclampsia," Gilbert said in a press release.

But the finding didn't show when or how much exercise is required or whether exercise has to start before pregnancy to get the beneficial effects.

Gilbert also says more studies are needed to see if exercise could be included as a therapy for high blood pressure that stems from poor blood flow in the placenta.

"But these results are certainly encouraging," he added.

For the study, Gilbert and his team induced high blood pressure in pregnant rats by reducing placental blood flow.

The rats were monitored after six weeks of running on an exercise wheel. Animals in both the exercise and control group ran approximately 30 kilometers a week before pregnancy and 4.5 kilometers during gestation.

The results showed running before and during pregnancy lowered the rat’s blood pressure and improved the balance of chemicals that restrict blood growth and function of blood vessels.

Gilbert says the rats and their fetuses all did well. The finding suggests exercising during pregnancy might benefit women who develop high blood pressure, but more studies are needed before any recommendations are made.

There is no known way to prevent pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH). According to the American Pregnancy Association, women can lower the chances by limiting salt intake, getting plenty of regular exercise, getting plenty of rest and by limiting alcohol and caffeine intake.   

You are at higher risk for high blood pressure if you’re a first time mom, your mother or sister developed PIH, or you had high blood pressure or kidney disease before getting pregnant. Women younger than age 20 or over age 40 carrying multiple babies are also at increased risk.

If you’re pregnant and been told you have high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s advice about taking prescribed medications and supplements. It’s important to get regular pre-natal care. During each visit your doctor will check your blood pressure and urine to ensure you have a healthy happy pregnancy outcome.

The study suggests exercise could help prevent complications of pregnancy that stem from high blood pressure. More studies are needed to determine safety and how much and when women should exercise. 


University of Oregon
November 16, 2012