Women considering pregnancy may be able to reduce their risk of gestational diabetes by 21% if they increase their fitness levels before conceiving, a study reports.
Researchers from University of Iowa looked at 1,333 women over 25 years (between 1985-2011) in a bid to demonstrate the benefits of physical activity prior to pregnancy.
As well as asking the participants to provide regular updates about whether they had become pregnant and if they had developed gestational diabetes, the study also required them to do a physical activity test.
The research team combed through the data to reveal that 164 women had developed gestational diabetes. Those with higher fitness levels before conceiving had a 21% lower risk of developing the condition.
Study researcher Dr Kara Whitaker. said: “Women are very careful during pregnancy with what they eat and the exercise they get. But the study shows women should engage in these healthy behaviours before they get pregnant as well.
“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.”
In the UK, the Department of Health recommends people aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week, such as cycling or brisk walking.
Dr Erica Gunderso, from the Kaiser Permanente Northern California, also took part in the research and said the findings showed health benefits beyond reducing the risk of gestational diabetes.
She said: “Many women who become pregnant and later develop GDM [gestational diabetes mellitus] already have elevated metabolic risk factors before pregnancy. Higher physical activity before pregnancy may lower risk of GDM by improving glucose metabolism and preventing excessive weight gain.”
The results have been published in Medicine &Science in Sports &Exercise.

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