Making Smart Children

Prenatal exercise translates into brain development

Making Smart Children, Healthy Living Magazine, Meena Dimian, Parenting

Making Smart Children, Healthy Living Magazine, Meena Dimian, Parenting

Traditionally, mothers are considered especially vulnerable during pregnancy. With trying to keep track of her body temperature, physical exertion and what she’s ingesting, the responsibilities of carrying new life are endless. Yet, there’s an aggressive increase in active, fit and even strength-training expectant mothers. Experts have been weighing in more and more about the advantages of prenatal fitness.

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More expecting mothers are pushing the limits of prenatal health. Cross-fitters, marathon runners, even Olympian moms are getting involved. In January, heptathlon gold medalist Jessica Ennis-Hill of the United Kingdom announced her pregnancy to a mix of congratulations and curiosity from her supporters about her ability to maintain her level of performance after delivery. Greg Whyte, professor of applied sport and exercise at John Moore’s University, Liverpool, confirms the popular movement and claimed Jessica’s fans needn't worry: “Essentially, there is no negative effect to pregnancy for an athlete whatsoever as long as she has the right structure in place to return to full fitness."

The benefits are not exclusively physical. New research has shown time spent at the gym could even translate into a smarter child. A 2013 University of Montreal study led by Professor Daniel Curnier stated, “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."

“After having half the pregnant subjects commit to a steady exercise program, the researchers attached 124 electrodes to a newborn’s head and waited for the 8 to 12 day-old child to fall asleep in the mother’s lap for observation. The results brought an interesting insight: 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.”

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A study done at California State University in 2013 found that exercise during gestation can be very beneficial to mother and baby alike. It proved that a sensible exercise regime can be very useful to fetal growth and development during the first two trimesters down to the basic tissue level. “An important aspect of the findings in our study is that previous research identified the endothelium, which is the single-cell layer lining all blood vessels, to be susceptible to foetal-programming interventions. Contrarily, we show that the vascular smooth muscle was significantly altered in adult offspring from exercise trained mothers.”

Even outside of the lab, fitness experts are encouraging working out during gestation. Sylvia Nasser, chief executive officer of The Fit Fem, Long Island, New York, encourages women who already exercise to continue during the prenatal period. “When clients become pregnant, I like to keep them on an increased endurance and stamina regimen so that muscle tone isn’t lost. It usually makes the delivery easier.” Nasser advises women to consult their physicians before taking on any activity during pregnancy, especially if the mother is not accustomed to physical exercise.

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