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Physical activity during pregnancy stimulates brain development in newborn

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Everyone knows that physical activity is essential to lead a healthy lifestyle; in addition to maintaining body weight within normal limits, it also helps prevent many diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, etc. Now researchers at the University of Montreal found that 20 minutes of exercise three times a week during pregnancy stimulates brain development in offspring. Professor Dave Ellemberg, who led the study, said that this is the first randomized clinical trial conducted on humans who objectively measure the effect of exercise on the brain of the newborn. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2013 congress in San Diego.

The researchers hope that these findings will further lead to other studies on brain plasticity and guide new public health interventions. They are optimistic and hope that this study will encourage pregnant women to change their health habits since this could change the future of their children. “Our research indicates that exercise during pregnancy enhances the newborn child’s brain development,” researchers said.

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This approach is relatively new in pregnancy; not so long ago pregnant women were advised to avoid exercise and rest as much as possible during pregnancy. Now the recommendations have changed and it is generally accepted that physical inactivity should be avoided during pregnancy. Courier explained that while physical inactivity increases the risk of complications during pregnancy, physical activity can improve postpartum recovery, in addition pregnancy can make pregnant women feel more comfortable and can decrease the risk of obesity in the newborn.

Researchers have thought that since physical activity is beneficial to the adult brain, then it may benefit the offspring as well through actions of the mother. To test this hypothesis, they conducted a study in order to evaluate the effect of maternal physical activity during pregnancy on infants aged between 8 and 12 days. Pregnant women were divided randomly into two groups, one sedentary group and one exercise group. Women in the latter group had 20 minutes of moderate intensity exercise three times a week. Then, postpartum, the brain activity of the newborns was measured using an electroencephalography.

Labonté – LeMoyne explained that with the aid of 124 electrodes placed on the head of the newborn, they measured auditory memory using unconscious brain response to repeated and novel sounds. The study results have shown that babies born to mothers who were physically active during pregnancy had a more mature brain activation which means that their brain developed more quickly.