Cardiff Metropolitan University
Gostelow-Stöhr2022_Article_TheEffectOfPretermBirthOnMaxim.pdf (2.2 MB)

The effect of preterm birth on maximal aerobic exercise capacity and lung function in healthy adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Download (2.2 MB)
journal contribution
posted on 2022-07-12, 16:08 authored by Thomas Gostelow, Eric J. Stöhr



A negative impact of premature birth on health in adulthood is well established. However, it is not clear whether healthy adults who were born prematurely but have similar physical activity levels compared to adults born at term have a reduced maximal aerobic exercise capacity (maximum oxygen consumption [VO2max]).


We aimed to determine the effect of premature birth on aerobic exercise capacity and lung function in otherwise healthy, physically active individuals.


A broad literature search was conducted in the PubMed database. Search terms included ‘preterm/premature birth’ and ‘aerobic exercise capacity’. Maximal oxygen consumption (mL/kg/min) was the main variable required for inclusion, and amongst those investigations forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1, % predicted) was evaluated as a secondary parameter. For the systematic review, 29 eligible articles were identified. Importantly, for the meta-analysis, only studies which reported similar activity levels between healthy controls and the preterm group/s were included, resulting in 11 articles for the VO2max analysis (total n = 688, n = 333 preterm and n = 355 controls) and six articles for the FEV1 analysis (total n = 296, n = 147 preterm and n = 149 controls). Data were analysed using Review Manager ( Review Manager. RevMan version 5.4 software. The Cochrane Collaboration; 2020.).


The systematic review highlighted the broad biological impact of premature birth. While the current literature tends to suggest that there may be a negative impact of premature birth on both VO2max and FEV1, several studies did not control for the potential influence of differing physical activity levels between study groups, thus justifying a focused meta-analysis of selected studies. Our meta-analysis strongly suggests that prematurely born humans who are otherwise healthy do have a reduced VO2max (mean difference: − 4.40 [95% confidence interval − 6.02, − 2.78] mL/kg/min, p < 0.00001, test for overall effect: Z = 5.32) and FEV1 (mean difference − 9.22 [95% confidence interval − 13.54, − 4.89] % predicted, p < 0.0001, test for overall effect: Z = 4.18) independent of physical activity levels.


Whilst the current literature contains mixed findings on the effects of premature birth on VO2max and FEV1, our focused meta-analysis suggests that even when physical activity levels are similar, there is a clear reduction in VO2max and FEV1 in adults born prematurely. Therefore, future studies should carefully investigate the underlying determinants of the reduced VO2max and FEV1 in humans born preterm, and develop strategies to improve their maximal aerobic capacity and lung function beyond physical activity interventions.


Published in

Sports Medicine




  • VoR (Version of Record)


Gostelow, T., Stöhr, E.J. (2022) 'The effect of preterm birth on maximal aerobic exercise capacity and lung function in healthy adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis', Sports Medicine.

Electronic ISSN


Cardiff Met Affiliation

  • Cardiff School of Sport and Health Sciences

Cardiff Met Authors

Thomas Gostelow

Cardiff Met Research Centre/Group

  • Cardiovascular Physiology

Copyright Holder

  • © The Authors


  • en

Usage metrics

    Cardiovascular Health & Ageing - Journal Articles



    Ref. manager