New Study: Aerobic Exercise During Pregnancy May Reduce Childhood Obesity

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You have heard the old saying that when you are pregnant you are eating for two. A new study says that when you are pregnant you are also exercising for two. The study is from physical therapy and pediatric researchers at East Carolina University.

The study, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, finds that pregnant women who did supervised aerobic exercise had babies with higher coordination and muscle strength at one month. The researchers believe that exercise during pregnancy may be one way to reduce the epidemic of childhood obesity.

Details of the Study

Researchers enrolled 71 pregnant women, ages 1- through 35, at around the end of the first trimester. All the women were healthy and active. One group of women were placed into an aerobic exercise program for the rest of pregnancy that included 50 minutes of supervised exercise on three days of the week. Exercises included aerobics, treadmills, elliptical machines, and stationary bikes.

Another group of women served as the control group, they were asked to do stretching and deep breathing, but did not have a supervised exercise routine. All the women gave birth to healthy babies. At one month of age, all the babies were tested using a standard exam that pediatricians use to measure a baby’s neuromuscular development, called Second Edition Peabody Developmental Motor Skills Scale (PDMS-2).

Results of the Study

All the babies scored in the normal range for the PDMS-2, but there were significant differences. Babies of the moms who were in the aerobic exercise group did significantly better that than control group babies in these areas of development:

  • Reflexes
  • Sensory input
  • Cognitive motivation
  • Muscular strength
  • Coordination
  • Control of head and body movement

These finding indicate that aerobic exercise during pregnancy has a significant positive effect on a baby’s brain development, called cerebral maturation. The researchers believe there are several explanations for this effect, including better blood flow and oxygen for the baby’s brain, better supply of nutrients, and increased hormones that cross through the placenta like growth hormone and intrauterine growth factor.

Why Is This Study Important?

Other studies have found positive effects of exercise during pregnancy, including improved heart health in babies, lower risk of preterm birth, and healthier weight and size of newborns. So, there are already lots of good reasons to stay fit. These researchers hope their findings can lead to a reduction in an epidemic that is affecting American children. Childhood obesity now affects one-third of children ages 2 through 19.

How does better neuromuscular development at one month lead to a reduced risk of childhood obesity? There is a lot of research to support the idea that babies with better muscular strength and coordination will be more active as children. Several studies show that children who are more active and coordinated at one year of age are more likely to participate in sports during teenage years. Studies also show that active teens are more likely to be fit adults.

Bottom line, if you are recently pregnant start exercising for two. Aerobic exercise is good for you, for your pregnancy, and for the future health of your baby.

Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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