Exercise and Diabetes During Pregnancy

Current research from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, shows that women that were more physically active and practiced on a regular basis prior to becoming pregnant and while pregnant are less likely to develop diabetes during their pregnancy.

Gestational Diabetes

Women in the study of over 21,765 individuals that were physically active prior to the pregnancy were 23 percent less likely to develop gestational diabetes. This number is significant in the control and prevention of this condition. In addition to controlling the gestational diabetes there are other health benefits for both the mother and the baby that are identified with a safe and effective exercise program prior to and during pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes occurs in approximately 4% of all pregnant women, and will result in over 135, 000 reported cases of this condition per year. It is not exactly known what causes gestational diabetes, but it is believed that the hormones produced by the placenta prevent the mother's body from being able to absorb insulin. This insulin resistance may cause the mother to need up to three times as much insulin to have the same metabolic functioning.

Gestational diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, but once you have had gestational diabetes you have a 2 in 3 chance of having it again in future pregnancies. Gestational diabetes is also a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Effects on the baby

Gestational diabetes begins late in the pregnancy, after the baby's body has already formed. The effects of the high levels of insulin in the mother are directly related to the way that the baby begins to produce insulin. Many babies will develop macrosomia, which is a condition that causes the baby to store all the extra sugar as fat, and leads to birthing problems, low blood glucose levels and respiratory problems.

How much exercise is needed?

Women that exercise vigorously by walking very briskly, cycling, swimming or other strenuous physical activity were the least likely to develop gestational diabetes. The next level included women that walked briskly for at least 30 minutes per day or climbed the equivalent of 15 flights of stairs per day. This group was 34 percent less likely to develop gestational diabetes than those that walked at an easy pace for the same amount of time. The women tested all had at least one pregnancy between 1990 and 1998. During this time there were 1492 cases of gestational diabetes identified in the study group.

It is interesting to note that women that reported watching TV for more than twenty hours per week were 2.3 times more likely to develop gestational diabetes than those women that reported watching less than 2 hours of TV per week.

What does this mean?

These findings serve to underscore the importance of a good physical exercise program prior to and during pregnancy to help control gestational diabetes. Since gestational diabetes can lead to type 2 diabetes, and further accidents of gestational diabetes it is important for women to be aware of these findings.