Exercise During Pregnancy Boosts Babies’ Health

Moderate exercise before and during pregnancy promotes healthy fetal development through DNA methylation, researchers in Singapore find.

Asian Scientist Magazine (Sep. 27, 2022) — Studies have shown that nutrition and moderate exercise not only help pregnant mothers but also lead to better fetal growth and offspring health. However, the underlying mechanism of how that happens have been unclear. A recent study by a team of researchers from National University of Singapore has tried to fill that gap.

The researchers found an association between recreational physical activity (before and during pregnancy) and placental DNA methylation. DNA methylation is a process that regulates gene expression and cellular function in the placenta. It has been critical for studying the processes related to fetal and maternal health.

This study is the first-of-its-kind to investigate the effects of maternal physical activity on placental DNA methylation in humans during the timeframe leading up to pregnancy and lasting throughout pregnancy. The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers surveyed healthy, low-risk participants with different socio demographic backgrounds and lifestyle patterns for their perceived level of physical activity engagement. The team identified that recreational physical activity before and during pregnancy was significantly associated with a  site of placental DNA methylation region responsible for regulating gene expression, which implied that maternal preconception and antenatal physical activity may impact the fetus’ early-life cardiac, immune system, and nervous system development.

At present, there are multiple misconceptions on how exercise can affect pregnancy. These include myths that exercise can be dangerous for fetal growth as it causes overheating and dehydration.

The study aims to shed light on the benefits of exercise during pregnancy so that “lifestyle intervention strategies [can be identified] to promote the health and wellbeing of women, their children, and the entire family”, says Professor Zhang Cuilin from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore.


Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

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