Exercising while pregnant can improve your child’s heart health after he or she is born. In 2008, Linda E. May, an exercise physiologist and anatomist at Kansas City, found that pregnant women who exercised for 30 minutes three times a week had fetuses with lower heart rates — a sign of cardiovascular health — in their last weeks of development. Further study has revealed that, when mothers-to-be are physically active, fetuses’ improved cardiovascular heart control continues for one month after pregnancy.
May’s research team’s latest investigation involved 61 moms-to-be and monitored maternal-fetal and infant heart function four times over the course of the study. The women’s aerobic activity levels ranged 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,” May says, “and improved heart control function is evidence of a healthy cardiovascular system and overall health. Not only did the mothers’ exercise help maintain and improve their own health, but it set their babies up for a healthier start.”
Not earth-shattering news, perhaps. But I was (sorry for the pun) heartened to hear about May’s research. Fifteen years ago when I was expecting my son Charlie, I took daily walks. My OB-GYN assured me that moderate exercise — no training for a marathon — would be fine.
Charlie is autistic, which my husband and I have come to think is due primarily to genetic factors. But like many mothers of autistic children, I have spent many days wondering if there was something I did wrong while pregnant that led to Charlie being autistic. Over the years we’ve heard so many speculations about autism being “linked” to expectant mothers: eating foods containing mercury, having children closely together, drinking coffee, not taking certain vitamins, taking SSRIs, to name only a few. Exercising during pregnancy never came up as a “possible cause” but it takes a long time for the what if‘s to get out of your mind.
Charlie is 14 years old now and very physically fit. He runs with a beautiful, powerful stride that’s entirely natural, as he’s not inclined to imitate Usain Bolt or other athletes on the track. He adores bike riding and, with his dad, does several miles a day (even Sunday, after Hurricane Irene). He’s got a lot of challenges — it’s good to know that some things I did, so many years ago now, may have helped to give him some advantages including a strong and healthy heart.
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Photo by David Salafia