You've probably long since gotten the memo that exercising for 30 minutes most days of the week is good for you. But did you know that recent studies support the idea that pregnancy workouts are also good for your baby's health?
"The way I look at it, anything you're doing for you, you're doing for the baby, too," says Rebecca Scritchfield, a Washington, D.C.-based registered dietitian and ACSM certified health fitness specialist. Here's what we learned to back that up: Research shows that exercise during pregnancy has health and fitness benefits for both of you.
A 2013 study published by researchers at the University of Montreal compared the cognitive development of two groups of babies. One half was born to moms who had at least 20 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise (think: walking or jogging) three days each week; the other, to moms who were sedentary.The researchers compared how the brains of both sets of babies responded to sound at one month of age, which is a measure of cognitive development. They found that babies born to the exercising mothers had more mature brain function -- more advanced brains -- than those born to the less active moms.
No one is sure yet how long that brain development advantage lasts -- they're continuing to study it -- but "these are very interesting results," says Sheryl Ross, M.D., an ob-gyn at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Whatever the ongoing research finds, even a little boost in brainpower sounds good to us.
In a 2011 study from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Missouri, researchers assessed the heart activity of pregnant mothers and their infants-to-be. They found evidence that aerobic activity affects babies in much the same way that it helps their moms.
The women in this study had different levels of physical activity, but scientists found that the fetuses of pregnant women who worked out at least 30 minutes a day, three days a week, had lower heart rates (a sign of heart health). And when those women's one-month-old babies were tested, they also had lower heart rates, as well as better heart rate variability, which is a sign that their nervous systems were better controlling their hearts.
"If this result -- that exercise offers cardiovascular protection -- is supported by further research," Dr. Ross says, "it could certainly support the idea that healthy cardiovascular activity during pregnancy could be the best start for your baby's health in the future."
A study conducted in New Zealand in 2010 showed that mothers who exercise while pregnant tend to have babies born at healthier weights. Though all the babies in the study were born in the healthy range, "babies born to moms who worked out regularly were found to be about five ounces lighter on average," Dr. Ross says.
"That [healthier birthweight] makes recovery from delivery better, limiting sugar shifts and making the babies less prone to diabetes," Dr. Ross continues. Some experts also believe that babies born at healthy weights are also less likely to be obese in later life.
"Most of these studies are anecdotal -- the tests were performed on small numbers of patients," Dr. Ross says. "I'd like to see them duplicated, but they're certainly worth considering -- especially if they encourage women to be their healthiest selves during their pregnancies."
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