During healthy pregnancy, the cardiovascular system undergoes diverse adaptations to support adequate transfer of oxygen and nutrients from mother to fetus. In order to accommodate the large expansion of blood volume and associated cardiac output, the structure, mechanics, and function of the arteries are altered. Specifically, in healthy pregnancy there is a remodeling of arteries (increased angiogenesis and vasodilation), a generalized reduction in arterial stiffness (increased compliance), and an enhanced endothelial function. The development of pregnancy complications, specifically pre-eclampsia, is associated with poor placentation (decreased angiogenesis), increased arterial stiffness, and vascular dysfunction (reduced endothelial function). Many of the positive adaptations that occur in healthy pregnancy are enhanced in response to chronic exercise. Specifically, placental angiogenesis and endothelial function have been shown to improve to a greater extent in women who are active during their pregnancy compared with those who are not. Prenatal exercise may be important in helping to reduce the risk of vascular dysfunction in pregnancy. However, our knowledge of the vascular adaptations resulting from maternal exercise is limited. This review highlights maternal vascular adaptations occurring during healthy pregnancy, and contrasts the vascular maladaptation associated with pre-eclampsia. Finally, we discuss the role of prenatal exercise on vascular function in the potential prevention of vascular complications associated with pre-eclampsia.

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