A recent US study suggests that foetal development may be boosted by exercise that the mother undertakes during her pregnancy.  Pregnant women between the ages of 20 and 35 were divided into two groups for the study by researchers at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences and the University of Kansas Medical Centre. One group undertook moderate aerobic activity for at least half an hour, three times a week, while those in the control group did not partake in regular exercise.  The aims of the study were to discover whether the foetus received any cardiovascular benefits from the exercise activities of expectant mothers, and whether exercise increased foetal breathing movements, which indicates functional development of the respiratory system and general wellbeing. Non-invasive tests were used to monitor foetal development, breathing and body movements, and foetal heart rate and autonomic nervous system control.  The study findings showed foetal heart rate to be significantly lower in the exercise group during both breathing and non-breathing movement periods. Foetal overall and short-term heart rate variability were higher in the exercise group during breathing movements. The exercise-exposed foetuses had higher measures of vagal (cardiovascular) control during breathing movements. No significant differences in measures of vagal control between the two groups were noted during periods of foetal non-breathing, and there were no group or breathing differences in sympathetic heart rate control.  The researchers commented, ‘These findings suggest a potential benefit of maternal exercise on foetal development because of the link between foetal breathing movements and the developing autonomic nervous system’.

Source: American Physiological Society