A small pilot study shows that moderate exercise during pregnancy is good for the unborn baby's heart.
Pounding the pavement or sweating it out at the gym not only has cardiovascular benefits for the mother, but new research presented at the 121st annual meeting of the American Physiological Society (part of the Experimental Biology 2008 scientific conference), shows it also has significant health benefits for the foetus as well.
Work it, baby
According to Dr Linda E May from Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Missouri, USA, the results of this pilot study ''imply an exciting potential benefit of maternal exercise on foetal cardiac autonomic nervous system regulation''. In other words, exercise now and your baby will reap the health benefits later with a stronger heartbeat, lower blood pressure and improved functioning of the internal organs.
May and her team tested the hypothesis that foetuses exposed to exercise in the womb have better autonomic function compared with foetuses that are not. The researchers monitored the foetal heart rate and heart rate variability between 28 and 36 weeks of pregnancy in women who exercised and those who decided to sit it out. The foetuses whose mums exercised the workouts were nothing strenuous, just 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise three times a week had significantly lower heart rates than foetuses not exposed to exercise.
Sweating it out for a healthy heart
''When the mum exercises during pregnancy, the unborn baby gets the same type of training effect you would see in an adult,'' says May. ''So you see the lower heart rate and also improved heart rate variability, which is evidence of improvements in the nervous system of the heart.
''Maternal exercise may be the earliest intervention to improve the heart of children, and possibly the best,'' concludes May.