A mother can improve the health of her child’s heart by exercising during pregnancy, according to a new study. While many studies have shown activity during pregnancy improves heart function in young offspring, this new study is the first to suggest that these cardiovascular benefits continue into adulthood.

The new study, published in the journal Experimental Physiology, says physical activity during pregnancy alters the type of heart muscle known as smooth muscle. One of the leaders of the study, Dr. Sean Newcomer, of California State University San Marcos USA, said "Our study was the first to demonstrate that maternal exercise during pregnancy significantly impacts vascular function in adult offspring."

Currently, the guidelines suggest pregnant women exercise for at least 30 minutes each day on most days of the week. Many physicians, however, are not completely on board with this guideline and do not promote exercise for expectant mothers.

The researchers used pigs as test subjects because these animals have human-like responses to physical exercise and they are easily trained to perform exercise routines. Furthermore, time and ethical constraints prevent scientists from performing this test on humans.

The scientists put pregnant swine on treadmills for 20 to 45 minutes, five days a week, which is consistent with the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommendation. They assessed the heart function of the piglets while they were still in the womb. Since pigs reach maturity in a matter of months rather than years, the scientists will be able to track their heart health through each stage of maturity.

Further research could determine how physical activity during gestation improves the offspring’s cardiovascular health later in life. The authors of the study conclude, “We are only starting to understand how exercise during gestation influences offspring adult health and disease. Results like ours may help to create guidelines enabling women to make the best decisions for them and their children by providing evidence-based health choices.

“Physical activity may act through multiple pathways which depend on the type, duration, intensity, and frequency of the exercise regimen. Furthermore, it is essential that future research investigates the coronary circulation and also establishes what impact these reported changes in vascular function in the offspring have on cardiovascular disease susceptibility.”

Source: Exercise during pregnancy improves vascular function of offspring into adulthood." AlphaGalileo. 23 Oct 2013. Web. 6 Nov 2013.