Exercise During Pregnancy May Boost Babies’ Brain Activity

Infants were better able to process repeated sounds, showing a maturity of brain function

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University of Montreal

Being pregnant and carrying extra pounds is the perfect excuse to slack off on the workout, right? Not if you want a smart child, says a new study.

By sticking 124 electrodes on the heads of days-old infants, scientists at the University of Montreal found that women who were randomly asked to exercise – and dutifully followed instructions to be physically active – had babies with more active brains eight to 12 days after they were born than moms who took it easy. While the infants slept, scientists monitored how their brains responded to new and familiar sounds. The babies whose mothers had exercised more were better able to process repeated sounds, showing a maturity of brain function that their counterparts did not.

The study, presented at the Neuroscience 2013 meeting in San Diego, is the first to connect mom’s exercise and her baby’s brain development. While the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that expectant mothers exercise moderately for about 30 minutes every day, this guideline was primarily to help women get through their pregnancies with less back pain, diabetes and sleep problems.

The Canadian researchers aren’t quite ready to say that being more active during pregnancy can lead to smarter children, but they plan to follow up with the infants when they are a year old, to see if their heightened brain activity set the stage for more neural connections and enhanced cognitive development.

As encouraging as the findings are, however, not all moms-to-be should start hitting the treadmill. Some women with high-risk pregnancies shouldn’t exercise strenuously, so experts suggest that women consult with their doctors before starting a workout regimen. Still, for most mothers, the results provide yet another reason to get active (or stay active) even when you’re expecting.