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Researchers at East Carolina University wanted to find out whether exercise during pregnancy affected babies' motor skills after they were born. They recruited more than 70 pregnant women – all with healthy pregnancies, carrying just one baby and mostly in their first trimester – and divided them randomly into two groups.
One group of women did 45 to 50 minutes of supervised, moderate-intensity exercise three times a week until almost the end of their pregnancies. They could choose to do either an aerobics class or spend time on a treadmill, elliptical machine, or stationary bike. The other half, who served as a control group, simply did light stretching and breathing exercises three times a week.
Thankfully, all the women gave birth to healthy babies. When the babies turned 1 month old, a physical therapist tested their ability to control their head, clench their fists, roll over, and generally move around. Babies with moms who'd been active during pregnancy were stronger and had better physical coordination than babies whose moms were in the control group.
Keep in mind, the differences were slight – and all the babies were developing normally. (So if you can't exercise while you're pregnant or choose not to, don't sweat it. You're not going to harm your baby.)
But the study does suggest that exercising during pregnancy might give your baby a small edge when it comes to physical ability. According to previous research, kids with good physical coordination are more likely to be active as they grow, which is good for their health and helps prevent obesity.
Also, an earlier study found that babies whose moms exercised in pregnancy have stronger hearts and lower resting heart rates, which is good for athleticism.
Researchers are still figuring out how exercise in pregnancy influences babies' development. The study authors speculated that exercising may increase delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the placenta, spurring babies' brain and nervous system growth. Or that it could release hormones that are good for the motor-skills area of the brain.
The study didn't account for the infants' home life. It's possible that some babies' parents spent more time playing with them in the first month of life, and that activity could have influenced their physical skills.
Looking to start a pregnancy exercise routine? The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week (as long as your doctor hasn't rule out exercise because of a medical condition). You can do the whole 30 minutes at once, or several 10-minute workouts throughout the day.
Exercise ideas include:
- Brisk walking
- Low-impact aerobics
If you're new to exercise, you can also try these pregnancy exercises for beginners.
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