Exercising during pregnancy enhances cognition in offspring

A recent study published by Andrea Robinson and David Bucci in the journal Neuroscience indicates that exercising during pregnancy can improve recognition memory in the offspring when they are tested as adults. 

Physical exercise has been shown to improve learning and memory in humans as well as laboratory animals by inducing changes in brain function.  Prior studies in Professor David Bucci’s laboratory have shown that voluntary wheel running during adolescence produces more robust and longer lasting effects on recognition memory compared to exercising during adulthood. As an extension of that work, Andrea Robinson, a graduate student working in Professor Bucci’s laboratory, recently examined whether wheel running during pregnancy affected memory function in the offspring when they were adults.  In this study, pregnant rats had free access to a running wheel throughout pregnancy, or where housed without access to a running wheel (no-exercise control group).  After giving birth, the wheels were removed from the cages of the exercise group and the offspring of both groups were raised under standard laboratory conditions. When they reached adulthood, the offspring were tested in an object recognition memory task.  The adult offspring whose mothers exercised during pregnancy exhibited enhanced recognition memory compared to the offspring on the non-exercising mothers. This was accompanied by enhanced neural activity in the perirhinal cortex, a part of the brain that is critically involved in object recognition.  Adjacent regions of cortex that  are not involved in object memory exhibited similar amounts of activity in both groups.  Although future studies are needed to determine the mechanism underlying these effects, the data add to a growing literature indicating that exercising during pregnancy has beneficial effects on stress resilience and cognitive function in offspring.