Newborn babies whose mothers exercised during pregnancy may have improved motor skills, according to new research.
It has long been believed that undertaking physical activity while pregnant has many positive benefits for the mother, but a new study by researchers at the University of East Carolina has shown that exercise can have lasting benefits for the baby too.
The study found that exercise during pregnancy enables babies to have improved neuromotor development and be more adept at movement, in comparison to babies whose mothers did not exercise.
Dr. Linda May and her team recruited 71 healthy pregnant women who were carrying a single baby and divided them into a control group and an exercise group. The exercise group attended 50-minute supervised sessions of moderate exertion three times a week until they gave birth.
A month after each birth, both mother and child went back to the lab, where the babies' reflexes and motor skills were tested. They found babies whose mothers had exercised performed better on almost all of the tests, leading the experts to believe they had more advanced motor skills.
In addition, the differences were most notable in girls. Their development usually falls slightly behind boys at one-month-old but the girls from the exercise group showed the same level of skills as the boys in that group and more coordination than boys from the control group.
Dr. May believes this advanced motor development "might encourage" those children to be more active as they grow up and possibly even help tackle the childhood obesity crisis.
"Because physical activity is a modifiable risk factor of childhood obesity, these findings suggest that exercise during pregnancy may potentially reduce childhood risk of obesity," the researchers wrote in their study, published in August issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.