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Nov 11, 2013 10:07 AM EST

Exercise during Pregnancy Boosts Brain Development in Babies, Study

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Exercising moderately during pregnancy boosts brain development of babies, according to University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children's hospital study.

 "While animal studies have shown similar results, this is the first randomized controlled trial in humans to objectively measure the impact of exercise during pregnancy directly on the newborn's brain. Most of all, we are optimistic that this will encourage women to change their health habits, given that the simple act of exercising during pregnancy could make a difference for their child's future," said Professor Dave Ellemberg, the study lead.

A decade back, obstetricians would advice women to rest during their pregnancy. However, current physicians now associate inactivity during pregnancy with delivery complications.

"While being sedentary increases the risks of suffering complications during pregnancy, being active can ease post-partum recovery, make pregnancy more comfortable and reduce the risk of obesity in the children," Curier said in a press release. "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."

For the study the researchers asked 10 pregnant women, beginning second trimester, to perform at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week. On the other hand, a second group of eight mothers-to-be did not take part in any type of exercise. They were only moderately active for around ten minutes a week.

Later they measured brain activity of their newborns, between 8 and 12 days, through electroencephalography. While the researchers assessed their brain activity, a bleeping noise was played repeatedly. Occasionally, the bleeps were interrupted by a second sound.

"We used 124 soft electrodes placed on the infant's head and waited for the child to fall asleep on his or her mother's lap. We then measured auditory memory by means of the brain's unconscious response to repeated and novel sounds," Labonté-LeMoyne, study co-author  said. "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 found that the babies whose mothers had exercised could differentiate between the two sounds, indicating a sign of maturity.

'Our research indicates that exercise during pregnancy enhances the newborn's brain development,' said study leader Professor Dave Ellemberg.

Other benefits of exercise during pregnancy: it improves IQ and vocabulary until at least the age of five, boosts the heart health of the children in later life, and increases the oxygen supply and the production of a brain-boosting protein called BDNF.

Labonté-LeMoyne said that exercising during pregnancy is a simple and inexpensive way to give a healthy start to babies in life.

'Thinking about your child is very good motivation but also do it for yourself,' Labonté-LeMoyne told Daily Mail UK. 'You are training to give birth and that is probably going to be the hardest thing you will do in your life. If you are physically fit it could be a little easier to get through it and get back from it.'

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