BACKGROUND: It is generally accepted that an active lifestyle is beneficial for cognition in children, adults and the elderly. Recently, studies using the rat animal model found that the pups of mothers who exercised during pregnancy had increased hippocampal neurogenesis and better memory and learning abilities. The aim of this report is to present the experimental protocol of a study that is designed to verify if an active lifestyle during pregnancy in humans has an impact on the newborn's brain. METHODS: 60 pregnant women will be included in a randomized controlled study. The experimental group will be asked to exercise a minimum of 20 minutes three times per week, at a minimal intensity of 55% of their maximal aerobic capacity. The control group will not be exercising. The effect of exercise during pregnancy on the newborn's brain will be investigated 8 to 12 days postpartum by means of the mismatch negativity, a neurophysiological brain potential that is associated to auditory sensory memory. We hypothesize that children born to mothers who exercised during their pregnancy will present shorter latencies and larger mismatch negativity amplitudes, indicating more efficient auditory memory processes. DISCUSSION: As of September 2011, 17 women have joined the study. Preliminary results show that the experimental group are active 3.1 ± 0.9 days per week while the control group only exercise 0.8 ± 0.6 days per week. The results of this study will present insight on fetal neuroplasticity and will be a valuable tool for health professionals who wish to encourage pregnant women to exercise. TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov registration: NTC01220778.
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