Physical activity during pregnancy and the role of theory in promoting positive behavior change: A systematic review

Erika L. Thompson, Cheryl A. Vamos, Ellen M. Daley

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Background Physical activity (PA) during pregnancy provides physical and psychological benefits for mother and child. U.S. guidelines recommend ≥30 min of moderate exercise for healthy pregnant women most days of the week; however, most women do not meet these recommendations. Theory assists in identifying salient determinants of health behavior to guide health promotion interventions; however, the application of theory to examine PA among pregnant women has not been examined cohesively among multiple levels of influence (e.g., intrapersonal, interpersonal, neighborhood/environmental, and organizational/political). Subsequently, this systematic review aims to identify and evaluate the use of health behavior theory in studies that examine PA during pregnancy. Methods Articles published before July 2014 were obtained from PubMed and Web of Science. Inclusion criteria applied were: (1) empirically-based; (2) peer-reviewed; (3) measured factors related to PA; (4) comprised a pregnant sample; and (5) applied theory. Fourteen studies were included. Each study's application of theory and theoretical constructs were evaluated. Results Various theories were utilized to explain and predict PA during pregnancy; yet, the majority of these studies only focused on intrapersonal level determinants. Five theoretical frameworks were applied across the studies—all but one at the intrapersonal level. Few determinants identified were from the interpersonal, neighborhood/environmental, or organizational/political levels. Conclusion This systematic review synthesized the literature on theoretical constructs related to PA during pregnancy. Interpersonal, community, and societal levels remain understudied. Future research should employ theory-driven multi-level determinants of PA to reflect the interacting factors influencing PA during this critical period in the life course.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)198-206
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Sport and Health Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2017


  • Physical activity
  • Pregnancy
  • Theory


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