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by Liz Bowen

It is a given that lifelong exercise has a tremendous benefit at all stages of life including during pregnancy. Recent experiments and studies are now providing evidence that the benefits of exercising while pregnant can even accrue to the unborn child in terms of brain development.


While many scientists believe that active mothers generally birth babies that have more robust cardiovascular systems, evidence that this also translates to brain development has been a more recent concept. One of the first experiments to test this idea was an experiment presented recently at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting in San Diego. The experiment showed that the pregnant rats that were allowed to run on wheels gave birth to pups with stronger memory capabilities when performing tests.

The question of longevity of the cognitive abilities as well as whether or not the exercise results would apply to human mothers and their unborn babies was still untested. A study at the University of Montreal in Canada put the idea to the test with a group of women that were in their first trimester of pregnancy.

The healthy, young, but nonathletic women were divided into randomized groups with one group working out moderately for 20 minutes a day, three times a week, while the other group remained sedentary. The exercises consisted of a mix of swimming, cycling, walking and jogging.

Shortly after the women gave birth, researchers measured the brain activity of the newborns in both groups via an EEG while they slept on their mothers laps. The EEG measured the brains of the newborns for their unconscious response to specific sounds that were repeated.

The study found that women who exercised as little as 20 minutes, three times per week boosted their baby’s brain development. While the evidence that moderate exercise can have many benefits for mothers and their unborn children is great news, every expectant mother should be consulting with their physician as to the appropriateness as well as type and frequency of exercise in their specific case.


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