Does Exercise Beat All Types of Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes risk may not be reduced through exercise

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) While exercise is key to preventing type 2 diabetes, it may not help women prevent diabetes during pregnancy. Even if that is the case, exercise can still provide many benefits to pregnant women.

Women who exercised three or more times per week in the second half of their pregnancy did not reduce their risk of gestational diabetes, or pregnancy-related diabetes.

"Work with your doctor to prevent diabetes during pregnancy."

Exercise is one of nature's best medicines. It is already well established that exercise helps prevent type 2 diabetes. But does it help prevent gestational diabetes? Signe N. Stafne, M.Sc., of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and colleagues set out to answer that question.

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops or is first diagnosed during pregnancy. When a woman is pregnant, certain hormones can stop insulin (a hormone that manages blood sugar) from doing its job, which puts both mother and child at risk of other health problems.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the rates of diabetes range from 2 to 10 percent of all pregnancies.

From their research, Stafne and colleagues did not find any evidence that exercise helps pregnant women prevent gestational diabetes. At the end of a 12-week exercise program, seven percent (25 out of 375) of pregnant women developed gestational diabetes. In comparison, the rate of gestational diabetes was six percent (18 out of 327) among pregnant women who received normal prenatal care and did not exercise.

They also found that the exercise program made no difference in insulin resistance.

While these findings may be discouraging to advocates of exercise in medicine, they do not prove that exercise is not beneficial for pregnant women. Physical activity is good for anyone's overall health. A pregnant woman who stays healthy boosts her chances of having a healthy child.

Furthermore, women who have gestational diabetes have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes after pregnancy. Exercise may help these women prevent type 2 diabetes following their children's birth.

Jennifer Mushtaler, M.D., an obstetrician in Austin, Texas who was not involved in the study, says she read this study with disappointment. She points out the drawbacks and limitations of the study. "Women were not started on an exercise program until 18 to 22 weeks in pregnancy. That's half-way through the pregnancy. Classes were only offered once per week and individual attendance was not monitored. Monitoring was by self report. The researchers were only able to enroll 10 percent of their population into the study."

Dr. Mushtaler also notes that only 55 percent of the pregnant women in the exercise program followed the recommended exercise routine. For these reasons, she says the researchers state, "results therefore should be interpreted with caution." 

For their study, Stafne and colleagues assigned 855 pregnant women to either a 12-week exercise program or to standard prenatal care. Women in the exercise group were told to get moderate- to high-intensity exercise at least three times per week.

The results are published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

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Review Date: 
December 29, 2011
Last Updated:
January 5, 2012