Exercise Promotes Child’s Heart Health Throughout and After Pregnancy

Doctors have long been steady advocates of exercise during pregnancy, following years of research that have proven its benefits on heart development. New studies show that staying active ensures more than that: it also lowers a baby’s heart rate in the final weeks of pregnancy and the first few weeks after childbirth, a sign of good cardiac health.

In a study conducted by Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (KCUMB), exercise physiologist Linda May and her team found that the fetuses of pregnant women who did at least 30 minutes of exercise three times a week had better heart rates than those who exercised less. The improvements lasted from the last stages of pregnancy throughout the child’s first month of life.

The study tracked 61 pregnant women, whose infant and maternal-fetal heart functions were taken four times at regular intervals. The women were engaged in different fitness activities, including running, power walking, yoga, and weight lifting.

Regular aerobic exercise has long been shown to improve bodily systems that control heart function in babies, according to May. Better heart control function points not just to a healthy cardiovascular system, but to good health overall, she added.

May, who has spent the last four years conducting studies on fetal heart development, says she hopes the findings will encourage women to take steps early in the pregnancy to ensure a healthy child. She says that a most studies and awareness programs focus on the health of school-age children today, although data shows that this can be influenced long before the kids are born.

The study was funded jointly by KCUMB and the University of Kansas Medical Center’s Hoglund Brain Imaging Center. The results appeared in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) journal this month.

Even obese women, who are normally advised to delay any weight-loss attempts to avoid hurting the baby, can safely remain active during the pregnancy. This was shown in a separate study at Saint Louis University, led by Department of Obstetrics chair Dr. Raul Artal. Dr. Artal’s findings show that weight loss during pregnancy isn’t necessarily harmful, and can in fact improve both the mother’s and baby’s health.

Here’s another incentive for women who aren’t inclined to get up and go: a more hassle-free pregnancy and easier labor. Both studies (and several others) show that expectant moms who exercise regularly experience less discomfort throughout the pregnancy and tend to have easier childbirth, with a lower risk of requiring a Caesarian section.

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