Research has found that moms-to-be who exercised at least 30 minutes three times a week had babies with lower heart rates—a sign of heart health—during the final weeks of development. What's more, a study has found that these same cardiovascular benefits appear to extend for at least one month after a baby is born, making exercising during pregnancy the earliest intervention strategy available to moms for improving their child's heart health after birth.
What kind of exercise is best? In one study of 61 moms-to-be, women took part in light to moderate aerobic activity, ranging from power walking to running. Some of the more active participants also lifted weights and practiced yoga.
"The system that controls heart function is known to improve with regular aerobic exercise, and improved heart control function is evidence of a healthy cardiovascular system and overall health," explains Linda E. May, an exercise physiologist and anatomist at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences who headed the research and presented it before a recent meeting of the American Association of Anatomists. "Not only did the mothers' exercise help maintain and improve their own health, but it set their babies up for a healthier start."
Still sitting down? According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), engaging in physical activity and exercising at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week can benefit your prenatal health in many positive ways, including:
- Reducing backaches, constipation, bloating, and swelling
- Helping to prevent or treat gestational diabetes
- Increasing energy levels and improving mood
- Promoting muscle tone, strength, and endurance
- Helping you sleep better
Regular activity also helps keep you fit during pregnancy (making it easier to get back in shape once your baby is born) and may improve your ability to cope with the pain of labor. But exercise isn't for every mom-to-be, especially if you have developed preeclampsia or certain other pregnancy complications. Make sure to check with your care provider first before lacing up your sneakers. But for women given the go-ahead to exercise, go for it! Your baby's heart—and your aching back—just might thank you.