Pregnant moms interested in giving their unborn babies a mental boost may want to exercise, say researchers from the University of Montreal.

Inspired by rat studies that showed cognitive improvement among the offspring of mothers
who exercised while pregnant, the scientists wanted to know if the same could be said for humans. The study included women in their first trimester who were divided into an active group and an inactive group. “The active group was asked to exercise a minimum of 20 minutes, three times per week, at a minimal intensity of 55% of their maximal aerobic capacity,” explained the study’s authors.

Throughout the intervention, the active group completed an average of 117 minutes of exercise per week. The inactive group averaged 12 minutes of exercise weekly. About 8–12 days postbirth, the researchers attached tiny soft electrodes to the newborns’ heads to study brain activity. The scientists took auditory measurements while the babies slept.

Overall, data showed that newborns with active mothers possessed a greater mental maturity than those with inactive moms. The researchers plan to retest the children once they reach age 1, to see if there are any long-term effects.

This research was presented at the Neuroscience 2013 annual meeting in San Diego.

Exercise during pregnancy can provide a host of benefits. Share these safety tips with your pregnant clients and exercisers, courtesy of Lisa Druxman, MA, chief founding mom at FIT4MOM®:

  • Be consistent with your exercise routine. Inconsistency isn’t good for you or the baby. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends exercising most, if not all, days of the week.
  • Feel comfortable continuing your past fitness routine if there are no contraindications and you have clearance from your physician. However, with extreme workouts that incorporate high-intensity interval training or CrossFit®-type exercises, use caution and always follow your doctor’s recommendations.
  • Exercise to target the changes in pregnancy. Focus on core and back exercises. Your back will become weak, and your chest and hip flexor muscles will shorten, so modify your routine to counter-balance these changes. Practice squats to prepare for labor.

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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