Moderate exercise during
pregnancy may boost your baby's brain development, according to new research.
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 PhD 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 foetal 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 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
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, Labonte-LeMoyne said.
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
They focused on the ability
of the brain to recognise 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 recognise the sound with less effort," she
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 remains.
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.
Better pregnancy outcomes
The study findings didn't
surprise Dr Raul Artal, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynaecology 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 Gynaecologists 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 guidelines say.
Research presented at
meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical
To learn more about
exercise during pregnancy, visit the Nemours Foundation.