SUNDAY, Nov. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Moderate exercise during
pregnancy may boost your baby's brain development, according to new
The study involving 18 moms-to-be and their babies found that
"at 10 days, the children have a more mature brain when their
mothers exercised during the pregnancy," said study researcher
Elise Labonte-LeMoyne, a Ph.D. candidate in kinesiology at the
University of Montreal.
Other studies have found health benefits for newborns and older
children whose mothers worked out during pregnancy, the researcher
said. And while animal studies have shown that exercise during
pregnancy alters the fetal brain, she believes this is the first
study to look at exercise's effect on human brain development.
For the study, which was scheduled for presentation Sunday at
the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego, the
researchers randomly assigned 10 pregnant women to an exercise
group and eight to an inactive group at the start of their second
trimester. The active group was told to engage in at least 20
minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week at a moderate
intensity -- meaning it should lead to at least a slight shortness
of breath. They typically walked, jogged, swam or cycled,
On average, the workout group clocked 117 minutes of exercise a
week; the sedentary group 12 minutes weekly. Using an EEG, which
records the brain's electrical activity, the researchers measured
the newborns' brain activity while sleeping when 8 to 12 days old.
They focused on the ability of the brain to recognize a new sound,
Labonte-LeMoyne said, noting this reflects brain maturity.
The babies whose mothers exercised showed a slight advantage,
the investigators found. "The brain is more efficient; it can
recognize the sound with less effort," she explained.
The differences may translate to a language advantage later in
life, she speculated. The researchers are continuing to track the
children's development until age 1 to see if the advantage
It's possible that exercise speeds up a process known as
synaptic pruning, whereby extra nerve cells and connections are
eliminated, helping brain development, Labonte-LeMoyne said.
The study findings didn't surprise Dr. Raul Artal, professor and
chair of obstetrics and gynecology and women's health at Saint
Louis University School of Medicine. He has long touted the value
of exercise for healthy pregnant women.
"It's known that babies respond to stimuli in utero," he said. The new research reinforces the belief that "pregnancy is not a state of confinement or indulgement," Artal added.
"It has been documented that pregnant women who lead a normal life, exercise and eat judiciously have better pregnancy outcomes," Artal said, while a sedentary lifestyle, obesity and some diseases can hurt the unborn baby.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states
that women with uncomplicated pregnancies who are recreational and
competitive athletes can remain active during pregnancy, modifying
their routine when medically necessary. Women who were inactive
before getting pregnant or who have medical or pregnancy-related
complications should be evaluated first by their doctor, the
Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until
published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
To learn more about exercise during pregnancy, visit
the Nemours Foundation.
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