It’s my opinion that exercise on any given day is a challenge. It’s a necessary challenge and it’s one that I often enjoy, but still, it’s hard and it makes me tired. Now imagine doing that exercise when you’re carrying twenty extra pounds with your ankles swollen. It sounds even less appealing then, but did you know exercising during pregnancy may give your child’s brain development a head start?

According to researchers at the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children's hospital, exercising for 20 minutes three times a week could enhance your baby’s brain development. In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for many physicians to tell pregnant women to take it easy and rest often during pregnancy. While this is still partly true, it’s been found that exercise during pregnancy has many benefits for both the mother and child.

"Our research indicates that exercise during pregnancy enhances the newborn child's brain development," explains Professor Dave Ellemberg, who led the 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. We hope these results will guide public health interventions and research on brain plasticity. 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." 

Being completely sedentary during pregnancy increases the chances of experiencing complications during pregnancy, but exercise can help prevent obesity in both the mother and child and it can also help ease postpartum recovery. The new study hypothesized that if exercise can help an adult brain, then it may also help an infant brain as well.

To test the hypothesis, women in the study were randomly assigned to two different groups beginning during the start of their second trimester. One group was sedentary, and the other group performed 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week. The brain activity of the infants was assessed sometime between eight and 12 days after birth. It was found that the mothers in the exercise group had children with a more mature cerebral activation, which suggests that their brains had developed faster.

Currently, the researchers are beginning to evaluate the children's cognitive, motor, and language development at age one to verify if these differences are permanent or not.

Source: Universite de Montreal (2013, November 10). Exercise during pregnancy gives newborn brain development head start. ScienceDaily.