Women who keep fit before pregnancy are at a lower risk of developing gestational diabetes, which suggests that exercising before pregnancy could help make that pregnancy much healthier, a University of Iowa-led study found. According to Mayo Clinic, gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy (gestation), and, like other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes affects how cells use sugar (glucose); it therefore causes high blood sugar that can affect a woman's pregnancy and her baby's health. It can develop during the last half of pregnancy, but the researchers have determined that pre-pregnant women who keep active actually have a 21 percent lower risk of developing gestational diabetes than those who lead more sedentary lifestyles, according to News 18.
The study, which was published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, looked at data from 1,333 women over a 25-year period (1985 to 2011) who enrolled in a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute study called Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA), according to News 18. Per the University of Iowa, "the women completed seven total study visits after first being enrolled, reporting whether they had become pregnant or gave birth and whether they developed gestational diabetes." The women were also given a fitness exam during the first study visit to test whether they could walk for two-minute intervals on a treadmill at increasing speeds and on steepening inclines.
The study found that 164 women developed gestational diabetes, so the researchers determined that pre-pregnant women with high levels of fitness had a lower risk of developing gestational diabetes than did those with lower fitness levels, News 18 reported. Women who have gestational diabetes were also more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes after giving birth, so the research suggests that exercising helps combat both forms of diabetes.
Scientists don't know what causes gestational diabetes, but they have some clues, according to the American Diabetes Association. "Hormones from the placenta help the baby develop, but they can also make it difficult for the mother's body to use insulin, creating insulin resistance, which is what may cause gestational diabetes. Without enough insulin, glucose cannot leave the blood and be changed to energy, so it builds up excessively in the blood."
According to a 2014 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of gestational diabetes is as high as 9.2 percent.
Despite the fact that it's not uncommon, it does have pretty serious implications. If untreated or poorly controlled, gestational diabetes can hurt a woman's baby, according to the American Diabetes Association. That's because the pancreas works overtime to produce insulin, but the insulin does not lower the blood glucose levels — and, although insulin does not cross the placenta, glucose and other nutrients do. Therefore, that extra blood glucose goes through the placenta, which gives the baby high blood glucose levels and can cause the baby's pancreas to make extra insulin to get rid of the blood glucose. The extra energy is then stored as fat, which can lead to macrosomia, when a newborn is significantly larger than average (with a birth weight of more than eight pounds, 13 ounces).
Plus, because of the extra insulin, newborns may have very low blood glucose levels at birth and are at higher risk for breathing problems. And they may grow into children with a higher risk for obesity and adults with a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes, as well.
"Women are very careful during pregnancy with what they eat and the exercise they get," co-author Kara Whitaker, Assistant Professor from University of Iowa said, according to News 18. "But the study shows women should engage in these healthy behaviors before they get pregnant, as well."
She added that women interested in becoming more fit can do so by engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week — 30 minutes per day, five days per week. Brisk walking would constitute moderate physical activity; jogging would be considered vigorous physical activity, according to News 18.
"If female patients who are considering pregnancy weren't meeting physical activity guidelines (as outlined by the American College of Sports Medicine), then a doctor could write a prescription, such as for a walking program," Whitaker said, according to Science Daily.
Regardless of what form it takes, if you're thinking about getting pregnant, it's never a bad idea to get a little exercise.
Editor's note: After publication, we discovered this article did not meet our editorial standards. There were portions that did not correctly attribute another source. It has been updated to meet our standards.
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