Baby, it’s cold outside…which may be what kindles romance, and in turn, conception at this time of the year. Birth rates spike near the end of September/early October, which — doing the math — means many couples conceive over the holidays. The early weeks and months of pregnancy may not make you feel like exercising — especially during inclement weather — but new research provides fresh motivation: Getting active may help improve your infant’s brain development later.

Canadian researchers recruited 60 moms-to-be in their first trimester. Half the women were asked to exercise a minimum of 20 minutes three times per week, at a minimum intensity of 55% of their maximum aerobic capacity; half were asked not to exercise. Once the happy little events had occurred, the newborns of the exercising moms showed improved mental development (as measured by the way the infants’ brain responds to unfamiliar sounds) compared to the controls.

These latest findings add to the mounting evidence suggesting that fitter pregnancies benefit both mother and child. Being overweight or obese, for example, increases the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and miscarriage. Indulging in  fatty foods during pregnancy can also increase your child’s chances of becoming obese later in life. So, what should you do? Choose plenty of healthy folate sources — spinach, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts — to reduce birth defect risk, while ample choline can improve your child’s memory later in life.

Published January 1, 2014