Pregnant women’s prenatal exercise could boost baby’s future health

New research adds to mounting evidence that shows the benefits of exercise for not only pregnant women, but also their babies. Peathegee Inc, Getty

Exercise during pregnancy may have long-lasting benefits on a baby’s life, a new study suggests.

A mom-to-be’s prenatal fitness could help her child not only handle stress better as an adult, but also ward off diseases like cancer, diabetes and obesity.

The finding comes from University of Kentucky researchers, who studied mice.

“If they exercised, kids were better off [in adulthood than those born to sedentary mothers] — even if they never exercised themselves,” said Kevin Pearson.
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Pearson is an associate professor in the department of pharmacology and nutritional sciences. On Friday he shared his research, which still has to be peer reviewed, at a conference in Phoenix for the world’s leading experts in exercise science.

WATCH: A 2013 study in Montreal discovered keeping fit during pregnancy can also help a baby’s development.

He says maternal exercise during a mouse’s pregnancy seemed to somehow “program” the offspring for protection later in life, at least for a while.

The offspring of rodent moms who exercised still got cancer. It just appeared later in their lives compared to the offspring of mothers that didn’t work out during pregnancy.

The level of exercise in the rodents was up to 10 kilometres of running a day. It’s “almost impossible” to translate that into a human equivalent (because rodents’ metabolic rates are totally different than ours). And it’s still too soon to say whether prenatal exercise could increase a human’s longevity.

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But the team has already started a small pilot study involving pregnant women.

Expectant mothers have been equipped with FitBits to track their steps, and will have their pregnancies and babies’ health closely followed.

It’s just one of several prenatal exercise studies in the works.

‘There’s a lot of misinformation out there’

Rachel Tinius, an exercise science assistant professor at Western Kentucky University, is part of a couple of them.

She’s teamed up with several gyms in Kentucky to offer free gym memberships to pregnant women, whose birth outcomes will be monitored.

Her goal is to let women know they shouldn’t be afraid of exercise during pregnancy. That belief is based on 20-year-old guidelines which she says have long been debunked.

Yet the fear still seems to be engrained in society. Every year, there’s another pregnant woman ripped apart on social media for working out while pregnant.

In 2015, lingerie model Sarah Stage was vilified on social media after sharing images of her super-toned pregnant body.

Some of her followers said the barely-there baby bump was “odd” or “super weird.” Others questioned the plausibility and safety of her pregnancy.

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Doctors tried to calm down the critical masses. They explained genetics, eating and exercise habits, along with a woman’s physical health going into the pregnancy all play a role in how she looks when expecting.

The model gave birth to a healthy eight-pound baby a couple weeks later. That didn’t stop the Twitter police from attacking another fitness model this past spring.

WATCH: Is there such a thing as being too fit while pregnant?

Tinius experienced people’s paranoia firsthand this year while carrying her firstborn. The 29-year-old ran until the day she gave birth to a healthy 7-pound-14-ounce baby girl on Oct. 20.

“The looks I got when people were driving by — they were shocked. I had people roll down their windows and tell me to be careful.”

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Her doctor  was “very supportive” that she ran up to eight kilometers a day on some days, though she admits it “definitely got less comfortable.”

In 2011, 27-year-old Amber Miller completed all 42 kilometers of the Chicago Marathon while 39 weeks pregnant — a week short of full term.

ESPN reported she did it in a half-run, half-walk with a time of 6:25:50. Her contractions kicked in as soon she cleared the finish line and she gave birth to a health baby girl that day.

Doctors admit Miller, who ran three marathons over two pregnancies, is a rarity. They say most women are not in good enough shape for such a feat. It may even be challenging for some women who aren’t pregnant to pull it off.

Tinius believes “there’s a lot of misinformation” out there, though, that prevents expecting women from doing anything physical.

“There are even special parking spots for pregnant women, like they can’t walk … It’s just crazy.

“It’s kind of an old-school way of thinking …The old beliefs aren’t true. We can feel free to be active.”

WATCH: Exercises for pregnant women

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She and other medical experts insist exercise is perfectly safe and healthy for pregnant women.

It’s also a misconception that exercise can cause miscarriage, says Arri Coomarasamy, a U.K. expert in the field of pregnancy loss.

He agrees it’s completely fine for moms-to-be to engage in moderate exercise. He would only advise against high-impact and high-contact sports.

The same may not apply if your pregnancy is high risk. You should always consult your doctor about what’s safe for you while pregnant.

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