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Children's Health

Exercise during pregnancy can enhance baby's brain development

Baby undergoing electroencephalography.Courtesy of University of Montreal

Women who exercise while pregnant may be able to enhance their newborn baby’s brain development.

In a new study from the University of Montreal, researchers argued that women who perform as little as 20 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week while pregnant can dramatically impact their child’s entire life.

“We hope these results will guide public health interventions and research on brain plasticity,” lead author Dave Ellemberg said. “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.”

To understand the relationship between prenatal exercise and children’s brain health, Ellemberg and his colleagues followed a group of pregnant women, starting at the beginning of their second trimester.  The study participants were randomly assigned to a sedentary group or an exercise group – in which they performed at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week.

After the women gave birth, the researchers used electroencephalography to measure the brain activity of the newborns at the ages of 8 to 12 days old.  

“We used 124 soft electrodes placed on the infant's head and waited for the child to fall asleep on his or her mother's lap. We then measured auditory memory by means of the brain's unconscious response to repeated and novel sounds,” co-author Élise Labonté-LeMoyne said. “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.”

The researchers will follow up on the children’s brain maturation by analyzing their cognitive, motor and language development at the age of 1.  Their most recent findings were presented at the Neuroscience 2013 congress in San Diego.

Click for more from the University of Montreal.