The findings of a joint project involving researchers in the United States and Germany indicate that the exercise a woman does while pregnant will have beneficial life-long effects on the health of the child she carries. Mothers who exercise, maintain a healthy weight, and eat a nutritious diet during pregnancy usually experience easier labor and quicker recovery after delivery than mothers who are less fit. The short-term effects of a mother’s level of fitness during pregnancy have been seen in the babies they bear but long-term research has been lacking. This latest study “was the first to demonstrate that maternal exercise during pregnancy significantly impacts vascular function in adult offspring,” according to the research team.

Leading the team are Dr. Sean Newcomer, of California State University in San Marcos, and Dr. Martin Bahls, of Universitatsmedizen Greifswald, Germany. Their findings were published online in the journal, Experimental Physiology.

The research team’s experiments were carried out on pigs because physical activity produces similar cardiovascular responses in both pigs and humans. Pigs can also be trained to complete exercise regimens that mimic fitness programs a human might undertake. Another reason for studying pigs rather than humans is that pigs age faster, thereby eliminating the decades it would take for human offspring to grow to adulthood for follow-up study.

In the study, some pigs exercised on treadmills for 20 to 45 minutes a session five days a week while others did not. The medical communities in Europe and the US recommend a similar regimen of moderate intensity for pregnant women.

The offspring of the exercised pigs were found to have stronger vascular smooth muscle lining the arteries, a marker for robust heart health. This heart-healthy effect of the mother’s exercise was present at birth and when the offspring reached adulthood, suggesting life-long benefits to the offspring of physically fit mothers.

When pregnant women maintain a moderately intense exercise regimen during pregnancy, they maintain optimum health that benefits them throughout the pregnancy and afterward. This study of the effect of exercise on adult offspring demonstrates the value of a mother’s exercise on her baby’s blood vessels throughout his or her lifetime.

In the US and Europe, pregnant women are encouraged to enjoy 30 minutes of moderately intense physical exercise as many days as possible throughout a pregnancy. Women who are not physically fit at the beginning of pregnancy are urged to discuss with their physician the best way to incorporate a healthy exercise routine into their schedules.

Source: Bahls, Martin, et al. "Mothers’ Exercise During Pregnancy Programs Vasomotor Function in Adult Offspring." Experimental Physiology. 25 Oct 2013. Web. Retrieved 11 Nov 2013.