It is hypothesised that lifelong physical activity behaviours are established in early life, however there is minimal, and contradictory, evidence examining prenatal and postnatal factors in relation to adulthood physical activity. We investigated associations between prospectively ascertained prenatal/postnatal factors and device-measured moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in midlife.
Analyses included 5011 participants from the 1970 British Cohort Study, a birth cohort study of individuals born within the same week. At birth, the following factors were ascertained: socioeconomic position (SEP), maternal age, number of previous pregnancies, maternal smoking, maternal diabetes, gestational age, birth weight, breastfeeding status and infant health concerns. MVPA was captured at age 46 with a thigh-worn accelerometer device following a 24-hour protocol over 7 days.
In sex-adjusted models, lower SEP (–6.7 min/day (95% CI: –9.0 to –4.4) in those with a partly or unskilled paternal occupation), younger maternal age (0.4 min/day (0.2 to 0.5) per additional year of maternal age), maternal smoking during pregnancy (–2.5 min/day (–4.0 to –1.0)) and post-term gestational age (–7.4 min/day (–11.5 to –3.4); boys only) were associated with lower MVPA at age 46. In the mutually adjusted model, associations did not change but there was some evidence that birth weight may also be associated with MVPA levels.
SEP, maternal age, maternal smoking, post-term birth in boys and birth weight were associated with MVPA in midlife, indicating that midlife physical activity behaviours may be partially established at birth. Early interventions in disadvantaged environments may have a positive impact on physical activity throughout the life course.