Calling all pregnant women! Did you know that exercise during pregnancy might actually make your baby smarter? If you are tuned in to scientific research and what studies continually reveal about exercise and our health, this news should not completely surprise you. Science is consistently proving that exercise improves our overall health, including enhanced brain function for all ages- from seniors to children. But, new research announced by a team of scientists in early November at the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, California revealed how exercise during pregnancy can actually impact a baby’s intelligence in-utero.

Three scientists from the University of Montreal, Dave Ellemberg and Daniel Curnier, professors in the Department of Kinesiology, and graduate student Elise Labonte-LeMoyne, explained their study and announced the findings of their research at the conference.

The Study of Exercise During Pregnancy

They recruited women who were in their first trimester of pregnancy and then assigned them at random to one of two groups, an active group or a sedentary one.  They advised the women assigned to the active group to exercise moderately (at a rate of approximately 55% of aerobic capacity) for at least 20 minutes, at least three times a week, during both their second and third trimesters of pregnancy. They advised the women assigned to the sedentary group to essentially just take it easy and not exercise much at all throughout their pregnancy.

Once the babies were born to women in either group, researchers performed tests to see if they could determine any differences in brain function between those whose mothers had exercised moderately during pregnancy and those who did not. When the babies were eight to twelve days old, their brain activity was studied. The researchers fitted them with specialized caps made up of 124 electrodes that are designed to detect any electrical activity within the brain. Once the newborns fell asleep, the researchers played a series of sounds and measured any the responses from the babies’ brains. As they anticipated and is further explained in their study abstract, the babies whose mothers exercised up to 117 minutes per week had significantly more mature brain activity than those whose mothers averaged exercising only 12 minutes each week.

The scientists plan to continue studying these infants throughout their first year of life to determine if the benefits of a mother exercising while her baby is in-utero are long lasting. Along with the auditory memory tests they performed, they will assess the babies’ language, cognitive, and fine motor skills development as well.

Added Benefits to Exercise During Pregnancy

It was not long ago that women were advised to exercise cautiously during pregnancy or not much at all. And though it is still recommended for a pregnant woman to exercise and only elevate her heart rate to no higher than 140 beats per minute, the benefits of exercise far outweigh a sedentary lifestyle. When a woman exercises during pregnancy, it can lower the risk of complications during pregnancy, it can quicken her postpartum recovery process, and it can help her maintain her muscle mass which can make pregnancy less uncomfortable. Exercise can also assist in her losing the baby weight more quickly.

So, if you are pregnant and are considering the benefits of getting some exercise, you now know it is not just the mother who will benefit; the baby’s brain will benefit as well. If you have any questions about how much you should be exercising during pregnancy and what types of exercise are safe for you throughout your pregnancy, please talk to one of our practitioners during your prenatal visit.

- Dr. Shelly Messer

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