What an expectant mother should eat, how much weight they should gain, what type of childbirth is best and how much and what type of exercise they should be getting, has changed like fashion over the years. And while we know exercise has an incredible list of benefits for most, what are the benefits or consequences of exercise during pregnancy? An interesting study looked at whether or not prenatal exercise benefits for baby include improving their stem cells.
The old “eating for two” adage speaks some truth in that what a mother takes into her body affects not only her, but the baby she is carrying. A recent study found that heavy drinking affects the quality of the baby’s stem cells regarding their ability to make bone and differentiate appropriately, which are epigenetic, meaning that these defects can be passed down from their children to their children’s children and so on. Trans-fats consumed by mothers can mess up the brain of her child by altering genes which affect behavior and memory again epigenetically, passed down from mother to child for generations. We know physical activity slows down the aging process by increasing the length of the caps, called telomeres, which protect genetic material from getting lost during cell division. We also know exercise can turn back the epigenetic clock by decreasing DNA methylation (damage) to muscle repair genes.
The new study included 373 woman carrying a single child. Their cord blood was examined and three types of stem cells were counted: hemopoietic, endothelial, and breast stem cells. Their level of physical activity before and during pregnancy was gathered by questionaires and their energy expenditure evaluated. The conclusions were that vigorous exercise before pregnancy increases endothelial stem cells numbers in the cord blood which has the potential to improve endothelial (the lining of the blood vessels) function and in turn cardiovascular fitness of the baby. Exercise also lowered levels of putative breast stem cells resulting in protection from breast cancer.
The upshot? With all of the studies documenting the benefits of exercise and the epigenetic ability of the body to pass on the effects of both good and bad choices down through the generations, these results are not surprising. Staying active during pregnancy makes you feel better and better prepares your body to handle all of the physical and emotional changes that come with pregnancy, as well as labor and delivery. But if that’s not enough incentive, make healthy choices for yourself – and your babies – because it appears that like just like expectant mothers are “eating for two”, they’re “moving for two” as well!