(NaturalNews) One of the best ways to give children a good start at long-term heart health may be exercise during pregnancy, according to a study conducted by researchers from Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences and presented at the 121st annual meeting of the American Physiological Society.
"When the mom exercises during pregnancy, the unborn baby gets the same type of training effect that you would see in an adult," said researcher Linda E. May, "so you see the lower heart rate and also improved heart rate variability, which is evidence of improvements in the nervous system of the heart. Maternal exercise may be the earliest intervention to improve the heart of children and possibly the best."
Researchers used magnetocardiography, which is a magnetic, noninvasive version of the more well known electrocardiogram (ECG), to measure the heart rates and heart rate variability of fetuses between every four weeks between the 24th and 36th weeks of pregnancy. Half of the mothers studied were instructed to do 30 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise three times per week, while the other half were given no exercise instructions.
At every measurement between 28 and 36 weeks, the fetuses of women who exercised had lower heart rates than the fetuses of more sedentary women. At 32 weeks, these same fetuses had higher heart rate variability. The difference remained at 36 weeks, although it had lowered.
Both a lower heart rate and a higher heart rate variability are important indicators of a healthy heart.
While prior studies have conclusively demonstrated that exercise during pregnancy is important for the health of the mother, this study is one of the first to show that benefits beyond healthy birth weight may also be transmitted to the unborn child.
"This study suggests that a mother who exercises may not only be imparting health benefits to her own heart, but to her developing baby's heart as well," May said.
The researchers are planning to test their hypothesis again on a larger group of women.