While it is well recognised that aerobic activity improves cardiovascular fitness, there are only a few small scale studies that have looked at the associated positive effects in postnatal women. All of these studies have, however, demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in VO2 max following an exercise intervention. The exercise interventions used in each of these studies varied: one tailored the exercise to each individual woman involved, but guidance can be taken from CMO postnatal guidance. One study did show that women had a statistically significant improvement in VO2 max if they had a structured vs. self-designed training programme. All the research examined formal exercise and did not look at the benefit of less “being active.”
Interestingly, a study conducted by the army demonstrated a reduction in VO2 max at 6 months postnatal if there was no exercise support and this had an impact on whether candidates passed a fitness test needed for return to work, which impacted on women’s employability.
There are no studies that look at cardiovascular fitness and its effect on the ability to undertake day-to-day tasks of early motherhood.
Quality of Evidence
C (Low quality)
Strength of Evidence
Cardiovascular fitness can be improved through exercise intervention postnatally. There is no evidence as to what extent VO2 max can be improved by specific volumes and intensity of postnatal exercise. It is recommended that following the guidance for physical activity after childbirth as set by the Chief Medical Officer for the U.K. (150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity and at least two strength and balance sessions per week) – via gradual progression as set-out in this resource – will help new mums rebuild their cardiovascular fitness effectively.
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- Larson-Meyer D. E., (2002) Effect of Postpartum Exercise on Mothers and their Offspring: A Review of the Literature; Obesity Research Vol. 10: 841-53
- Pivarnik. J. M., Ayres N. A., Mauer M. B., Cotton D. B., Kirshon B., Dildy G. A., Effects of maternal aerobic fitness on cardiorespiratory responses to exercise; Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol 25, No 9, p993-998
- Miller M. J., Kutcher J., Adams K. L., (2017) Effects of Pregnancy on Performance of a Standardized Physical Fitness Test, Military Medicine, 182, 11/12:ee1859
- O’Toole M. L., Sawicki M. A., Artal R., Structured Diet and Physical Activity Prevent Postpartum Weight Retention, (2003), Journal of Women’s Health, Vol 12, no 10
- Vincze L., Rollo M. E., Hutchesson M. J., Callister R., Collins C. E., VITAL change for Mums: a feasibility study investigating tailored nutrition and exercise care delivered by video-consultations for women 3-12 months postpartum, (2018) The Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics; 1-12