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Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Jun;31(6):792-9.

Physical conditioning effects on fetal heart rate responses to graded maternal exercise.

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School of Physical and Health Education, Department of Physiology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.



This study examined the effects of advancing gestational age and maternal aerobic conditioning (stationary cycling) on fetal heart rate (FHR) responses to strenuous non-steady-state maternal exercise.


Subjects chose to participate in either an exercise group (EG) or control group (CG). Fourteen healthy, previously sedentary pregnant women participated in the exercise group, and six pregnant controls remained sedentary. Stationary cycling (heart rate target: 145 beats x min(-1)) was performed 3 d x wk(-1) by the exercised group. Exercise duration was increased from 14 to 25 min x session(-1) during the second trimester and was maintained at 25 min x session(-1) throughout the third trimester. FHR was monitored before, during, and after a progressive submaximal cycle ergometer test (peak heart rate = 170 beats x min(-1)) performed at approximately 27 and 37 wk gestation.


Mean FHR increased significantly (P < 0.05) during exercise, followed by a modest suppression and then a delayed rise during the recovery period at both observation times. Fetal bradycardia was not observed in any of the exercise tests. Effects of advancing gestational age included a lower FHR baseline both at rest and in response to maternal exercise and a lower incidence of exercise-induced tachycardia. Maternal physical conditioning did not significantly alter FHR response to maternal exercise.


Our results support the hypothesis that FHR responses to strenuous exercise are altered by advancing gestational age and a brief progressive exercise test terminated at a maternal heart rate of 170 beats x min(-1) does not induce fetal distress during a healthy pregnancy.

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