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Better fitness in pre-pregnant women linked to lower risk of gestational diabetes, says study

A study from the University of Iowa has found that women who have greater levels of fitness prior to pregnancy are at a lower risk of developing gestational diabetes. Women with gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type II diabetes after giving birth and the researchers say that a moderate improvement in fitness can lower the risk of developing gestational diabetes  to more than 20%.

Kara Whitaker, assistant professor in the UI’s Department of Health and Human Physiology and corresponding author on the study, says, “Women are very careful during pregnancy with what they eat and the exercise they get, but the study shows women should engage in these healthy behaviours before they get pregnant as well.”

The team of researchers analysed data from 1,333 women between 1985 and 2011. The women attended seven study visits, reporting whether they had become pregnant or given birth and whether they developed gestational diabetes. They also took part in a fitness exam in the first study visit to see whether they could walk for two-minute intervals on a treadmill at increasing speeds and on steepening inclines.

During the 25-year study, 164 women were diagnosed with gestational diabetes and, armed with this information, the research team determined that women with high levels of fitness before they became pregnant had a 21% lower risk of developing gestational diabetes than those with lower fitness levels.

Erica Gunderson, an epidemiologist and senior research scientist at Kaiser Permanente, Northern California, and a co-author on the study, adds, “Many women who become pregnant and later develop GDM (gestational diabetes mellitus) already have elevated metabolic risk factors before pregnancy. Higher physical activity before pregnancy may lower risk of GDM by improving glucose metabolism and preventing excessive weight gain.”

Where to next? Join the Sugar Smart Campaign to help reduce sugar consumption in our health clubs.