To describe the current scientific knowledge on the effects of physical exercise on the growth of children and adolescents since intrauterine life. A search was carried out in the Medline, Embase, Scielo, and Cochrane databases of studies published from 1990 to 2018. The authors included studies with different designs: clinical trials, cohort, cross-sectional and review studies.

Studies that addressed the subject of physical exercise or physical activity, and weight-height growth or bone or muscle tissue growth were identified. These studies were analyzed, classified, and presented by age group: fetuses, preterm newborns, preschoolers, schoolchildren, and adolescents.

It was observed that almost all studies indicated the safety of physical exercises, of mild to moderate intensity, for pregnant women, as well as children and adolescents, including both aerobic and anaerobic exercises.

The retrieve studies did not demonstrate that the practice of physical exercises or certain sports, especially basketball and floor gymnastics, influenced the linear growth of children or adolescents. Some studies showed an increase in bone and muscle tissue growth in child and adolescent athletes.

Despite the small number of studies with adequate methodology, especially randomized clinical trials, evidence appears to indicate that physical exercise is safe for both the pregnant woman and the child, from fetal life to adolescence. 

Physical exercise

Physical exercise does not appear to impair the child's linear growth and contributes to the ideal shaping of bone and muscle tissues, ensuring possible beneficial effects throughout life.

Physical activity is defined as any activity of the body with the involvement of skeletal muscle that results in energy expenditure. During physical activity, increased heart rate and sweating are usually observed.

Physical exercise is considered as a type of structured, organized, and previously planned physical activity, with repetitive practice and aiming at improving or maintaining physical conditioning.

Physical activity brings several advantages to the human body, both regarding disease prevention and the treatment and rehabilitation of these conditions. When practiced during childhood, it also has another great benefit, as it tends to be maintained throughout life.

The main doubts about possible harmful effects of physical exercise on weight–height growth, are concentrated on those practiced with vigorous intensity, as well as high-impact or resistance exercises.

The aim of this review is to describe current scientific knowledge on the benefits and harmful effects of physical activity on the weight–height growth of children and adolescents since intrauterine life.