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Exercising during pregnancy can have lasting health benefits for kids, study finds

Staying active while pregnant can help expectant mothers and their children

Photo (c) skynesher - Getty Images
Having an exercise routine is important for all consumers, but several studies have highlighted the benefits associated with pregnant women staying physically active

Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Virginia Health System shows that exercising during pregnancy may lead to health benefits throughout kids’ lives. In an experiment conducted on mice, their work showed that mice born to mothers that exercised during pregnancy were less likely to develop long-term health conditions into adulthood. 

“Most of the chronic diseases that we talk about today are known to have fetal origin,” said researcher Zhen Yan, PhD. “This is to say that parents’ poor health conditions prior to and during pregnancy have negative consequences to the child, potentially through chemical modification of the genes.”

Long-term health benefits from exercise

The researchers conducted their study on mice to determine the long-term effects of parents’ health pre-conception and mothers’ exercise habits during pregnancy. There were two groups of mice: one group received a high-fat diet prior to pregnancy and another group was fed a standard diet. Once the mice were pregnant, a portion of the mice given the high-fat diets were given wheels to exercise on during pregnancy. 

After the mice gave birth, the researchers analyzed the DNA patterns of all the offspring to understand what effect parental obesity and exercise had on the newborn mice’s health. The team learned that when both parents are obese, their children are more likely to have genes associated with diabetes and other metabolic conditions. However, when the pregnant mice took advantage of their opportunities to exercise during pregnancy, their offspring had better health outcomes. 

The study showed that mice that exercised during pregnancy produced newborns that were less likely to develop chronic metabolic issues. This was true even as the mice grew beyond infancy into adulthood; exercising during pregnancy had long-term protective benefits for the mice’s offspring. 

Never too late to start exercising

Though the researchers want to continue this work to include human participants, they hope that consumers understand just how beneficial it can be to incorporate exercise during pregnancy. 

“The take-home message is that it is not too late to start to exercise if a mother finds herself pregnant,” Dr. Yan said. “Regular exercise will not only benefit the pregnancy and labor, but also the health of the baby for the long run. This is more exciting evidence that regular exercise is probably the most promising intervention that will help us deter the pandemic of chronic diseases in the aging world, as it can disrupt the vicious cycle of parent-to-child transmission of diseases.” 

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