The Athlete's Way

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Physical Activity During Pregnancy Benefits Babies' Health

Exercise during pregnancy can improve your child's health into adulthood.

Regular aerobic exercise during pregnancy has the potential to improve the mental and physical health of children into adulthood. The mental and physical benefits of exercise help to create an optimal environment for the mind, body and brain of a fetus. Researchers are now discovering that the long-term benefits of a mother staying healthy and active can last for the lifespan of your child.

If you need one more specific reason to motivate yourself, a friend, or a partner to stay active and make healthy lifestyle choices during pregnancy, a new study has found that exercise during gestation significantly alters the vascular smooth muscle of an infant’s heart. The breakthrough study titled, “Mothers' Exercise During Pregnancy Programs Vasomotor Function in Adult Offspring” was published October 25, 2013 in the journal Experimental Physiology.

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. The results of this study provide evidence that aerobic exercise during pregnancy literally programs the arteries of offspring to be more resilient and efficient. This programming has the potential to reduce susceptibility to cardiovascular disease for a lifespan.

Lifestyle Choices Can Effect a Fetus for a Lifespan

We all know that certain lifefestyle choices and exposure to environment stressors, like pollution, can harm a baby. On the flip side, the healthy lifestyle choices we make as parents not only set an example for our kids, but have a direct impact on their health, happiness and resilience. Like every parent, nothing is more important to me and my daughter's mom than making sure that our child has the absolute best odds of being healthy and happy throughout her lifetime.

Previous studies have only focused on the benefits of maternal exercise on offspring during early childhood. This is the first study to demonstrate the effects of exercise during pregnancy on adult offspring. Dr. Sean Newcomer, of California State University San Marcos and Dr. Bahls, of Universitätsmedizin Greifswald in Germany said, “Our study was the first to demonstrate that maternal exercise during pregnancy significantly impacts vascular function in adult offspring."

The researchers add, "A second 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."

Conclusion: 30 Minutes of Moderate Exercise Most Days During Pregnancy Benefits Children Long-Term

The benefits of physical activity during pregnancy create a win-win by keeping the mother happier, less stressed, and physically fit while creating an optimal environment in utero. The current guidelines for pregnant women recommend thirty minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week. These are simple guidelines each of us can make a part of our daily routine for a lifetime of health, happiness and self-reliance, whether pregnant or not.

Unfortunately, not all physicians are convinced that exercise is beneficial for both the pregnant women and their offspring. The researchers conclude, "We are only starting to understand how exercise during gestation influences offspring adult health and disease. Results like ours may help to create guidelines enabling women to make the best decisions for them and their children by providing evidence based health choices.”

The researchers stress the fact that, "Physical activity may act through multiple pathways which depend on type, duration, intensity and frequency of the exercise regimen. Furthermore, it is essential that future research investigates the coronary circulation and also establishes what impact these reported changes in vascular function in the offspring have on cardiovascular disease susceptibility."

Future research is needed to better understand the biology of how exercise during pregnancy alters the health of offspring in adulthood. While we wait for more specific evidence-based guidelines for pregnant women — there is enough evidence to support that moderate physical activity during pregnancy will improve the odds of well-being for our children throughout their lifespan.

Please use common sense and consult with your physician before starting any type of exercise regimen.  

For more on the topic of creating the best odds of well-being for a child please check out my Psychology Today blogs: "Loving Touch Is Key to Healthy Brain Development", "Pollution and Maternal Stress Harm Babies During Pregnancy", "Parental Warmth Is Crucial for a Child's Well-Being","Human Babies Rely on Primitive Reflexes to Learn Language","The Neuroscience of Calming a Baby" ,"The Brain Benefits of Healthy Diet and Fitness in Early Life" and "Childhood Creativity Leads to Innovation in Adulthood."

Christopher Bergland is a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist.

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