Expectant mothers who are fitter prior to pregnancy are at lower risk of developing gestational diabetes, according to US researchers.
Their findings illustrate the importance of improving fitness before a woman becomes pregnant, said the authors of the new study from the University of Iowa.
“The main point is, it’s important to get in better shape before you get pregnant”
They noted that women with gestational diabetes were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes after giving birth.
The researchers analysed data from 1,333 women over a 25-year period who enrolled in a US national 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. The researchers determined that pre-pregnant women with high levels of fitness had a 21% lower risk of developing gestational diabetes than did those with lower fitness levels.
Study author Dr Kara Whitaker said: “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.
“The main point is, it’s important to get in better shape before you get pregnant,” she said, adding that the findings could be used by clinicians to recommend higher pre-pregnancy fitness to patients.
“Women are very careful during pregnancy with what they eat and the exercise they get,” she said. “But the study shows women should engage in these healthy behaviours before they get pregnant as well.”
Better fitness before pregnancy cuts risk of gestational diabetes
Study co-author Erica Gunderson, a senior research scientist at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, suggested the findings could be helpful to mitigate other health risks.
“Many women who become pregnant and later develop gestational diabetes mellitus already have elevated metabolic risk factors before pregnancy,” she said.
“Higher physical activity before pregnancy may lower risk of gestational diabetes mellitus by improving glucose metabolism and preventing excessive weight gain,” she added.
The study, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases.