Turns out, better fitness in before pregnancy, reduces the risk of gestational diabetes in women. According to a University of Iowa-led study, expectant mothers who were fitter before pregnancy, are at lower risk of developing gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes, a condition in which women develop diabetes during the last half of pregnancy, affects up to 14 percent of pregnant women in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women with gestational diabetes are more likely to develop Type-II diabetes after giving birth.
People interested in becoming more fit can do so by engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week (30 minutes per day, five days per week), said Kara Whitaker, corresponding author on the study. Brisk walking would constitute moderate physical activity; jogging would be considered vigorous physical activity. “Women are very careful during pregnancy with what they eat and the exercise they get,” Whitaker said. “But the study shows women should engage in these healthy behaviours before they get pregnant as well.”
Whitaker’s team analysed data from 1,333 women over a 25-year period (1985 to 2011) who enrolled in a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute study called Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA). The women completed seven study visits after first being enrolled, reporting whether they had become pregnant or gave birth and whether they developed gestational diabetes. Researchers also performed a fitness exam during the first study visit by testing whether the women could walk for two-minute intervals on a treadmill at increasing speeds and on steepening inclines. Over the study period, 164 women developed gestational diabetes. Using that information, Whitaker’s team determined that pre-pregnant women with high levels of fitness had a 21 percent lower risk of developing gestational diabetes than did those with lower fitness levels.
“We would expect to see this reduction in gestational diabetes risk if women had moderate improvements in fitness–going from fair to good fitness, for example” said Whitaker. “The main point is, it’s important to get in better shape before you get pregnant,” she said. “If female patients who are considering pregnancy weren’t meeting physical activity guidelines (as outlined by the American College of Sports Medicine), then a doctor could write a prescription, such as for a walking program,” Whitaker said. The findings could be especially helpful to mitigate other health risks.
“Many women who become pregnant and later develop GDM (gestational diabetes mellitus) already have elevated metabolic risk factors before pregnancy,” said Erica Gunderson, co-author on the study. “Higher physical activity before pregnancy may lower risk of GDM by improving glucose metabolism and preventing excessive weight gain.” The study is published online in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.