Women who exercise during pregnancy are less likely to have gestational diabetes, according to a Spanish study.
The exercise also helps to reduce maternal weight gain, said the researchers in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
One of the most frequent complications of pregnancy, gestational diabetes is associated with an increased risk of preeclampsia, hypertension, preterm birth, and can have long-term effects including impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes.
Gaining more weight than is recommended during pregnancy carries similar risks.
“Exercise is not something to be feared during pregnancy”
Gema Sanabria- Martinez
In the new systematic review, the researchers 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.
The effect was strongest for women who combined toning, strength, flexibility and aerobic exercise, said the researchers.
Exercise was also helpful in reducing excessive weight gain - those who exercised were on average a kilogram lighter. This held true for the weight gain even if the exercise programme was started in the second trimester of pregnancy.
Lead study author Gema Sanabria- Martinez, from Virgen de la Luz Hospital in Cuenca, said: “Exercise is not something to be feared during pregnancy – 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.”