Studies have linked exercise to brain health in senior citizens, middle-aged adults and kids. A trio of researchers from the University of Montreal figured the same might hold true for babies in utero as well.
Dave Ellemberg and Daniel Curnier, two professors from the university's Department of Kinesiology, and graduate student Elise Labonte-LeMoyne recruited women who were in their first trimester of pregnancy and randomly assigned them to an "active" or "sedentary" group. Women in the active group were advised to get at least 20 minutes of moderate exercise (using at least 55 percent of their maximal aerobic capacity) at least three times per week during their second and third trimesters, while women in the sedentary group pretty much took it easy.
After the babies were born, researchers tested their brains to see if they could spot any differences between infants whose mothers exercised and infants whose mothers were couch potatoes.
The researchers fitted the 8- to 12-day-old babies with specialized caps made up of 124 soft electrodes that detect electrical activity in the brain. Then they waited for the babies to fall asleep.
Once they were snoozing, the scientists played a series of sounds - some new, some familiar - and measured the response of the infants' brains.
Sure enough, the babies whose mothers had exercised had more mature brains than the babies whose mothers were sedentary, according to study.
"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," Ellemberg said in a statement.
Ellemberg and his colleagues will continue to follow the babies until they are at least 1 year old, to see if the benefits of prenatal exercise are long-lasting. In addition to auditory memory, they are also evaluating their cognitive, motor and language development.
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