Davenport awarded inaugural Christenson Professorship in Healthy Active Living

In October of 2018, the first fully evidence-based guideline for exercise and pregnancy was released to the world, providing health care providers and pregnant mothers with concrete information on the benefits of maintaining a physically active pregnancy.

At the helm of this important guideline was Margie Davenport who, along with colleagues from across the country, curated the Society of Obstetrician and Gynecologists of Canada, and the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity throughout Pregnancy.

“Incorporating a combination of cardiovascular and resistance exercises into every day should be considered a front-line therapy for reducing risk of pregnancy complications, and enhancing maternal physical and mental health,” said Davenport in 2018 when the guideline was released. “These guidelines are going to change practice and we’re excited to get them into the hands of clinicians, practitioners and pregnant women to promote maternal, fetal and neonatal health in Canada."

She was right. The 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity throughout Pregnancy was met with an enormous response by the research and healthcare fields, as well as by expecting mothers across the world. The guideline has since been adopted by other Clinical Practice Guidelines including the Hypertension Canada’s 2020 Comprehensive Guidelines for the Prevention, Diagnosis, Risk Assessment, and Treatment of Hypertension in Adults and Children which, for the first time, recommended the use of exercise as a preventative therapy for preeclampsia.
Furthermore, the work behind the 2019 Pregnancy Guideline document has garnered national and international attention, demonstrating our reach beyond the academic community. The 2019 Pregnancy Guideline document has been downloaded over 160,000 times since October 2018. An associated Podcast by Dr. Davenport has been listened to over 18,000 times. In total, the ’30-day report’ of media tracking associated with the Guideline indicates that this work reached an audience of over 32 million people.

A career dedicated to promoting healthy and active communities

As an associate professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, Margie Davenport has dedicated her life’s work to promoting healthy pregnancies and improving the lifelong health of women and their children. Her research focuses on the cardiometabolic health of pregnant and postpartum women, and the relationship between exercise interventions to prevent pregnancy complications and reduce maternal/fetal chronic disease risk.

The overriding goal of Davenport’s research is to understand the impact of pregnancy on the lifelong health of pregnant women, and to promote active living to improve health across the lifespan. This involves not only studies in her lab—Program for Pregnancy and Postpartum Health—but also getting new knowledge to pregnant women and their health care providers.

“Women are not just small men, they are biologically different. Our lifespan has events that are specific to women; menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. Although each is important, we now recognize that pregnancy is a stress test for life. The development of pregnancy complications including diabetes or high blood pressure increases a woman’s lifelong risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. If we can prevent the development of pregnancy complications, we can improve the lifelong health of two generations. When we support the health of our mothers, we develop stronger, healthier communities.”

Christenson Professorship in Active Healthy Living

Margie’s dedication to building healthy communities through her research has earned her the inaugural Christenson Professorship in Active Healthy Living. Aimed at ensuring healthy living and wellness for adult populations continues to remain an active area of teaching and research, the Christenson Professorship in Active Healthy Living will provide Davenport with financial support over a five-year period as she continues her work in improving healthy outcomes and lifestyles for women and children.

“I am very pleased to be able to announce the faculty’s first endowed professor, and certainly grateful to Greg Christenson for his generous support of the exciting work done within our faculty. Although the first appointment has taken some time to come to fruition, I feel that Margie’s work in the area of physical activity and pregnancy is exactly the type of meaningful research that Greg is wanting to throw his support behind” said Kerry Mummery, Dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation.

The financial support through the Professorship will allow Margie to not only pursue her research goals, but to continue to recruit some of the best and brightest undergraduate, graduate and PhD students and postdoctoral fellows to her lab. To-date, Davenport has trained over 30 students and postdoctoral fellows, all of whom have contributed greatly to the research conducted in their lab.

“The projects our students undertake are truly innovative and contribute a great deal to the overarching goal of our lab’s research portfolio,” says Davenport. “It’s wonderful to know that these young scientists will continue to pursue the most pressing health issues affecting pregnant and postpartum populations.”

Currently, Davenport and her team are looking into how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting physical activity and mental health for pregnant and postpartum women. Preliminary results show that new moms and moms-to-be are nearly three times more likely to develop depression and anxiety during the pandemic, but that maintaining healthy active living during this time substantially reduces this risk. Her team hopes that further research will help us create resources and supports for pregnant and postpartum women so they can continue to remain active and healthy who experience situations like the pandemic or other events that will limit their ability to be physically active or socially engaged.

Davenport has made important strides in promoting the health of pregnant women and improving lifelong healthy outcomes for women, children and communities. Her work is making its way into the hands of clinicians and policy makers locally, nationally and internationally, where collectively Davenport and colleagues are putting the health of women and children first.

“Working with a community of dedicated researchers, young scientists, healthcare professionals, caregivers and policymakers at a local, national and international level means that the work we’re doing can and will make a difference,” says Davenport.

“It is an honour to be named the Christenson Professorship in Healthy Active Living. This Professorship will be integral to achieving my overarching research goals to support the lifelong health of pregnant women and their children. As a direct result of this support, I will be able to continue to mentor trainees to build healthy, active communities in Edmonton, Canada and beyond.

About the Christenson Professorship in Active Healthy Living

The Christenson Professorship in Healthy Active Living (the “Christenson Professorship”) was established at the University of Alberta with funds donated by Mr. Greg Christenson. In establishing this endowment, it is the donor’s intent to ensure that healthy living and wellness within our adult communities continues to remain an active area of teaching and research in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation in perpetuity.

Dr. Margie Davenport is the inaugural recipient of the Christenson Professorship in Healthy Active Living, which has a fixed term of up to five years.