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Exercising During Pregnancy May Boost Your Baby's Brain

Elizabeth Keefe |13, November 2013


Exercising during pregnancy has many health benefits for both you and your baby. But did you know, it could also help your baby's brain develop? New research says so. A recent study from the University of Montreal revealed on November 11, 2013, that performing cardiovascular exercise for as little as 20 minutes three times per week during your pregnancy will enhance your baby's brain development.

Professor Dave Ellemberg, Ph.D., a lead researcher of the study stated, "...This is the first randomized controlled trial in humans to objectively measure the impact of exercise during pregnancy directly on the newborn's brain." The research suggests that not only will a pregnant mother who exercises reduce her risk of many pregnancy complications, it will also impact her baby's brain development. It was not that long ago when pregnant women were been told by their doctors to 'take it easy', 'rest', and wait until after birth to continue with a non-sedentary lifestyle. Today, doctors are urging expectant women to exercise just as they would if they were not pregnant — but safely.

The study was conducted by Dave Ellemberg, Ph.D. and Daniel Curnier, Ph.D. after they came up with the theory that, "Given that exercise has been demonstrated to be beneficial for the adult's brain, we hypothesized that it could also be beneficial for the unborn child through the mother's actions." And they were right!

Women in their second trimester were placed in two groups. The first group was the sedentary group where they were not allowed to exercise. The second group of women were asked to exercise moderately for twenty minutes three times per week, while making sure they were slightly short of breath.

After childbirth, the researchers placed 124 soft electrodes on the infants head and waited for the baby to fall asleep. According to Labonté-LeMoyne, a researcher and PhD candidate at the University of Montreal, the infant's auditory memory was measured by "means of the brain's unconscious response to repeated and novel sounds. Our results show that the babies born from the mothers who were physically active have a more mature cerebral activation, suggesting that their brains developed more rapidly."

The researchers will be evaluating the infant's cognitive, language and motor development throughout the first year to verify that the results of the study will be maintained.

What are some pregnancy exercises you can perform during pregnancy?

Walking – Either through your neighborhood, or on a treadmill, walking at a brisk pace is considered moderate exercise, as long as you are slightly out of breath. If you can hold a conversation comfortably, but not too comfortably, you are doing something right!

Swimming – Swimming is a great cardiovascular exercise with low intensity. Swim laps and you will be on your way to having a baby with a more developed brain at birth!

Dancing – Yes, dance! Have you tried Zumba? Zumba will help you and your baby get in shape by increasing your heart rate. It will also give you a ton of energy! Be careful and stick with the lower intensity routines so you don't over do it or fall — Zumba can be quite intense.

As with any exercise during pregnancy, be careful that you do not fall, or injure yourself. If you are new to exercising, take it easy at first and work up to exercising for twenty minutes. Start with exercising 10 minutes. Then work up to 20 minutes. You do not want to end up being in pain so severe that you cannot continue exercising. That is not healthy for you or your baby.

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