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Early Hum Dev. 2014 Jul;90(7):365-9. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2014.04.009. Epub 2014 May 1.

Maternal physical activity mode and fetal heart outcome.

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Division of Surgical Sciences, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, 27834, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Physiology, KCUMB, Kansas City, MO, 64106, USA.
Obstetrics and Gynecology, Campbell University, Buies Creek, NC, 27506, USA.
Department of Neurology, Hoglund Brain Imaging Center University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, KS, 66160, USA.



Maternal leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) improves cardiac autonomic function in the fetus. The specific physical activity attributes (e.g., mode) that produce this benefit are not well understood.


To determine if more time spent performing non-continuous LTPA during pregnancy is significantly associated with lower fetal heart rate (HR) and increased heart rate variability (HRV).


This paper presents a retrospective analysis of previously reported data. Fetal magnetocardiograms (MCG) were recorded from 40 pregnant women at 36-wk gestational age.


Metrics of fetal HR and HRV, self-reported min of continuous and non-continuous LTPA performed during the 3-months preceding the 36-wk assessment point and covariates (maternal weight change pre to 36-wk, age, and resting HR and fetal activity state during MCG recordings.


Positive correlations were significant (p<0.05) between min of continuous LTPA, the time domain metrics that describe fetal overall HRV, short-term HRV and a frequency domain metric that reflects vagal activity. Time spent in non-continuous LTPA was positively correlated (p<0.05) with two HRV metrics that reflect fetal overall HRV. In the multiple regression analyses, minutes of non-continuous LTPA remained associated with fetal vagal activity (p<0.05) and the relationships between minutes of non-continuous LTPA and fetal overall HRV (p<0.005) persisted.


These data suggest non-continuous physical activity provides unique benefits to the fetal autonomic nervous system that may give the fetus an adaptive advantage. Further studies are needed to understand the physiological mechanisms and long-term health effects of physical activity (both non-continuous and continuous) performed during pregnancy to both women and their offspring.


Autonomic nervous system; Fetal heart rate; Heart rate variability; Physical activity; Pregnancy

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