Muscle Memory after Pregnancy

Published: 08th December 2010
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Recent research on the ability to get back into shape after pregnancy highlights key brain components called "muscle memory" that make it easier for some than others. First recognized in previously fit individuals recovering from a severe accident where they spent a long time in the hospital unable to exercise, the idea of muscle memory has now been investigated in women who have just undergone childbirth.

Because, according to Dr. William Kraemer, muscle memory stems from memories in the brain about how to do a given activity, women, who have previously exercised, especially in a sport or at the competitive level have an easier time starting back into an exercise program after being forced to take time off.

In the research study pregnant women were recruited and put into groups based upon their previous exercise habits. Then shortly after childbirth, each female was given an exercise and eating program that was intended to assist her with losing the weigh they had gained during pregnancy. For most women this is an average of 14 to 30 pounds of bodyweight that was gained in a healthy manner over the nine-month pregnancy.

What the researchers found was that women that had previously exercised at a high level before pregnancy, such as participated in a sport, or belonged to an exercise group, had an easier time both following the program psychologically, and an easier time picking up the intensity over the 12-week period they were followed.

It seems, according to Dr. Adam Knight, that the continuous feedback loop that your brain makes with your muscles can be reactivated many months, maybe even years, after being dormant. The sensors, called proprioceptors, in muscles and tendons are constantly giving feedback to the rest of the body and this pattern is being imprinted on the brain as it happens.

This research has implications for new mothers for sure, but it might also be even more important for the child. As these neural pathways should be developed in children, so that if they have to take time off from regular physical activity in their adulthood, such as to give birth to a child, they can pick the exercise right back up more easily once they are able to go back to their normal exercise routine.

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