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Moderate exercise during pregnancy helps prevent gestational diabetes

Pregnant women who exercise also have reduced weight gain during pregnancy, study finds

Ingrid Torjesen

Monday, 08 June 2015

Women who exercise during pregnancy are less likely to have gestational diabetes, and the exercise also helps to reduce maternal weight gain, a study* published in BJOG: an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has found.

Gestational diabetes is one of the most frequent complications of pregnancy and is associated with an increased risk of serious disorders such as pre-eclampsia, hypertension, preterm birth, and with induced or caesarean birth. The condition can have long-term effects on the mother, including long-term impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes, and the children of mothers with gestational diabetes are more likely to become overweight or obese and have a higher risk of developing diabetes themselves.

In this systematic review, researchers from Spain looked at the results of enrolling healthy pregnant women, who did little or no exercise, into exercise programmes. Analysis of 13 trials, involving more than 2,800 women, found that exercise reduced the risk of gestational diabetes by more than 30% - for women who exercised throughout pregnancy this was even greater (36%). This effect was strongest for women who combined toning, strength, flexibility and aerobic exercise.

Exercise was also helpful in reducing excessive weight gain. Women who exercised were on average a kilogram lighter, even if the exercise programme was started in the second trimester of pregnancy.

Gema Sanabria-Martinez, from Virgen de la Luz Hospital and lead author of the study, said: "The moderate levels of exercise used in these studies had significantly positive effects on health and were found to be safe for both mother and baby."

Mike Marsh, BJOG deputy editor-in-chief added: "This careful analysis of previous studies shows a beneficial effect of exercise on healthy pregnant women who ordinarily did little or no exercise. It may influence recommendations for exercise in pregnancy in such women. Further studies are needed to establish whether this effect is seen in all pregnant women."

* G Sanabria-Martínez, et al. Effectiveness of physical activity interventions on preventing gestational diabetes mellitus and excessive maternal weight gain: a meta-analysis. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. Article first published online: 3 June 2015. DOI: 10.1111/1471-0528.13429

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