Emerging research suggests the exercise habits of expecting mothers can possibly lower a child’s chances of high blood pressure.
The Michigan State University study is the first to suggest that the exercise habits of expecting moms could possibly lower a child’s chances of high blood pressure, even though they may weigh less at birth.
Babies with lower birth weight have a greater risk of having high blood pressure later in life. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a key factor in cardiovascular health.
Experts say the research explores the issue of genetic preprogramming of a child’s health characteristics while in the womb.
The study has been published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness.
“We looked at a range of normal birth weight babies, some falling at the lower end of the scale, and surprisingly we found that this lower birth weight and higher blood pressure relationship in these offspring is not supported if the women were physically active,” said researcher James Pivarnik, Ph.D.
“The connection was disrupted, indicating that exercise may in some way alter cardiovascular risk that occurs in utero.”
This phenomenon is linked to what’s known as the fetal origins hypothesis. The theory suggests if something strenuous happens to a mother and her unborn child during critical growth periods in the pregnancy, permanent changes can occur that can affect the health of the baby.
Pivarnik and his colleagues initially evaluated 51 women over a five-year period based on physical activity such as running or walking throughout pregnancy and post-pregnancy.
In a follow up to the study, they found that regular exercise in a subset of these women, particularly during the third trimester, was associated with lower blood pressure in their children.
“This told us that exercise during critical developmental periods may have more of a direct effect on the baby,” he said.
The finding was evident when his research team also discovered that the children whose mothers exercised at recommended or higher levels of activity displayed significantly lower systolic blood pressures at eight to 10 years old.
“This is a good thing as it suggests that the regular exercise habits of the mother are good for heart health later in a child’s life,” Pivarnik said.
Source: Michigan State University