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Sitting for long periods during pregnancy linked to gestational diabetes

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Women suffering from symptoms of depression during pregnancy are more likely to sit down for long periods of time in the second trimester, putting them at risk of greater weight gain and contracting gestational diabetes, according to a UK study.

The research highlighted the need to address women’s physical and mental wellbeing from the early stages of pregnancy to help reduce the health risks associated with sedentary behaviour, said the study authors.

“It is important we minimise this risk by reducing the time that pregnant women spend sitting down”

Nithya Sukumar

They said the impact of sedentary behaviour on pregnant women was previously unclear, and there are currently no UK guidelines for the intensity and duration of physical activity needed to keep pregnant women healthy.

In their study, researchers from Warwick University asked 1,263 pregnant women to report on their level of physical activity and emotional wellbeing – in the first trimester of pregnancy and then again in the late stages of the second.

They found that overall, women with self-reported depression symptoms were more likely to sit down for longer periods – despite accounting for their body mass index, age and socio-economic status.

Pregnant women who spent more time sitting down in the second trimester also did less amounts of moderate or vigorous physical activity, and sedentary women gained significant amounts of weight between the first and second trimester.

“Encouraging women to take breaks from sitting down might be an easier public health policy to implement than increasing their physical activity during pregnancy”

Ponnusamy Saravanan

In addition, the researchers found that sedentary pregnant women had higher blood glucose levels around 28 weeks of gestation, putting them at higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.

Lead study author Dr Nithya Sukumar, from Warwick Medical School, said: “Pregnant women could benefit from early intervention to improve their physical and mental health and reduce the risks associated with sedentary behaviour.

“Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of birth complications for the mother and baby and so it is important we minimise this risk by reducing the time that pregnant women spend sitting down,” she said.

Co-lead author Dr Ponnusamy Saravanan said: “Encouraging women to take breaks from sitting down might be an easier public health policy to implement than increasing their physical activity during pregnancy.

“We believe reducing the sitting time has the potential to reduce pregnant women’s risk of gestational diabetes and reduce the metabolic risk factors of their newborns,” he added.

The findings were presented today at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Edinburgh.

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