Want Smarter Kids? Try Exercising

Last month, researchers at Dartmouth College published a study in Neuroscience concluding that certain forms of memory were enhanced in the offspring of rats who exercised during pregnancy.

The researchers, Robinson and Bucci, were interested in seeing if maternal exercise during pregnancy could have a long-term effect on the cognitive function of the offspring.  Previous research has shown that exercise during adolescence has greater and longer lasting positive effects on cognitive function than exercise during adulthood.  In adolescence the brain is going through final changes, while during prenatal stages the brain is being formed, and thus both are critical periods of development.  Therefore, it is extremely important to study the effect of exercise throughout pregnancy because fetal development during this time can have lasting effects throughout the lifetime of the offspring.

Robinson and Bucci tested the effects of maternal exercise on the development of memory.  The results showed that the offspring of the mothers who exercised during pregnancy were able to distinguish between two different objects, while the offspring of the non-exercising mothers were not able to make this distinction.  This suggests that maternal exercise can lead to enhanced memory function of offspring.

Most brain development occurs during pregnancy and can be influenced by many factors, including exercise.

The researchers focused on a specific type of recollection called object recognition memory.  This form of memory is dependent on an area of the brain called the Perirhinal Cortex (PER), whereas other forms of memory that have previously been studied are dependent on a different brain region, the hippocampus.  While there was a behavioral advantage (being able to discriminate between two objects) of the offspring born from mothers who exercised, there was also a neurological component responsible for the difference between the two groups of offspring.  This means that the researchers found actual differences in the brains of the two groups of offspring.

The research done by Robinson and Bucci is extremely important because it focuses on long-term effects of activities done during prenatal development, which is a critical time for growth of the offspring.  In addition, the researchers focused on an area of the brain that has not been heavily studied before.  While the research was done on rats, it has implications for human cognitive development during maternity because rats are great animal models of human behavior.  The findings show that maternal exercise during pregnancy can actually play a role in the formation of the brains of offspring, and their resulting cognitive functioning.

To read full article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24157927

Robinson, A. M., & Bucci, D. J. (2014). Physical exercise during pregnancy improves object recognition memory in adult offspring. Neuroscience256, 53-60.



About Lydia Marks