Exercise is vital in the fight against gestational diabetes

June 14, 2014—Diabetes during pregnancy (known as gestational diabetes) tends to resolve once the baby is born. Unfortunately, women with this condition often develop another form of diabetes (type 2) later in life. Thankfully, this progression isn’t inevitable, researchers say, and exercise could be the key.

About the study

Researchers followed 4,554 women with a history of gestational diabetes from the Nurses Health Study II. Women filled out questionnaires about the amount of time they spent in physical activities. They also told researchers how much time they spent watching television, sitting while doing other things at home, and sitting while driving or at work.

By the study’s end, 635 of the women developed type 2 diabetes. But increasing physical activity reduced that risk: Women who increased their current activity levels by adding the equivalent of 150 minutes per week of moderately intense exercise had a 47 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who did not increase their exercise levels.

On the other hand, women who watched six or more hours of television per week were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, although performing other sedentary behaviors did not pose a risk. Sitting in front of the television may be worse than other types of sitting, researchers say, because an episode of television watching is associated with mindless eating and other unhealthy behaviors.

Read an overview of the study, which was published in JAMA Internal Medicine, here.

The take-home message
Women with gestational diabetes are up to 60 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes within the next 20 years, when compared to women who don’t experience unusual blood sugar readings during pregnancy. However, women can slash their risk significantly with exercise.

Current government guidelines recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. But you don’t need long stretches of time to make your workout worthwhile. Squeezing in 10-minute miniworkouts throughout your day—like taking a short walk after work and gardening after dinner—can be just as effective as long, sweaty workouts. Most importantly? Find activities that you enjoy, since you’ll be more likely to stick with them.

Regular exercise during pregnancy can help reduce your risk for developing gestational diabetes too. In general, moms-to-be with uncomplicated pregnancies can participate in most types of moderate exercise, with the exception of contact sports (like hockey or basketball) and sports with an increased risk for falling (like gymnastics or horseback riding). Talk with your doctor to determine the best pregnancy exercise routine for you.

And find out more about staying healthy during pregnancy in the Pregnancy health topic center.


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