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Exercise does not lower risk of gestational diabetes, new study reports

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
gestational diabetes, type 2 diabetes, pregnancy, exercise

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY - Gestational diabetes is diabetes, which appears during pregnancy, and usually resolves after pregnancy. Women who become gestational diabetics during a pregnancy are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in later life than women who do not develop the condition during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is similar to type 2, or adult onset diabetes, in some ways; however Norwegian researchers found dissimilarity. Overweight individuals who do not exercise regularly are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes; however researchers at the University of Science and Technology in Trondheim found that women who exercised regularly during the second half of their pregnancies did not lower their risk of developing gestational diabetes. The results were published in the January edition of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The study group was comprised of 855 women who were randomly allocated to an exercise group or a control group. However, 33 women in the exercise group and 61 in the control group were lost to follow-up; in addition, 21 women in the exercise group women and 38 control group women did not complete the oral glucose tolerance test (a test for diabetes). Thus, data from 375 exercise group women and 327 control group women were included in a complete case analysis. The exercise program followed standard recommendations and included moderate-intensity to high-intensity activity three or more days per week. All of the women were in their 18th to 22nd week of pregnancy. The women in the exercise group took an hour-long class once a week for 12 weeks: low-impact aerobics, plus strengthening and stretching exercises. They were also given an at-home work-out to do twice a week.

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The researchers found that the women who exercised did not reduce their risk for gestational diabetes. By the third trimester (the last three months), 7% of the exercise group and 6% of the control group had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Only 55% of women in the exercise group managed to follow the recommended exercise protocol. No serious adverse events related to physical exercise were seen, and the outcomes of pregnancy were similar in the two groups. Lead researcher Signe N. Stafne noted that the team was surprised at the findings because they had assumed that regular exercise would have a protective effect against the condition.

Take Home Message: In addition to the surprise findings that exercise did not decrease the risk of gestational, the researchers reported that only 55% of the women managed to complete the exercise protocol. Thus, it points to the difficulty women encounter in completing an exercise program when pregnant. Moderate exercise during pregnancy can be beneficial because it boosts circulation and tones muscle; however, a program should be limited to low impact exercise in a safe environment. During pregnancy, the ligaments become more flexible; thus, an injury such as a sprained ankle is more likely to occur. Balance and stability decreases as pregnancy advances; thus, the risk of a fall increases. Women who engage in competitive sports should either curtail them or participate non-competitively, just for the exercise. The woman who ran a marathon at full-term and then went into labor is, in my opinion, the poster women of what not to do when pregnant.

See Also:
Weight loss drug reported to reverse diabetes
New criteria for gestational diabetes diagnoses