According to a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials recently published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, moderate exercise during pregnancy can help decrease the risk for gestational diabetes by 31% while also reducing maternal weight gain. As lead author Gema Sanabria-Martinez, MsC, points out, exercise isn’t something to avoid or be afraid of during pregnancy, with moderate levels of exercise used in studies having significantly positive effects on health while being safe for both the baby and the mother.
Gestational diabetes, common during pregnancy, has been linked to more serious problems, including preeclampsia, hypertension, premature birth, higher rates of caesarean delivery and later type 2 diabetes in the mother. Children born to women with gestational diabetes also have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and obesity later on in life. Excessive weight gain during pregnancy poses similar health risks; women may also find it difficult to lose weight after pregnancy, in turn increasing their risk of obesity.
Traditional wisdom has said that women need to reduce their physical activity, or stop exercising altogether, during pregnancy. However, recent research has suggested that exercise during pregnancy could help improve outcomes in both mothers and children. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists currently recommends that pregnant women engage in moderate exercise at least 30 minutes every day on most days of the week. However, studies have conflicted on whether exercise during pregnancy can decrease gestational diabetes and improve maternal weight gain.
For the meta-analysis, the authors searched six scientific databases for randomized controlled trials published in English and/or Spanish between January 1990 and May 2014. Trials evaluated exercise programs for healthy pregnant women who were sedentary or had low exercise levels at the start of the studies. Exercise programs varied widely in type, frequency during a week and overall duration, with some programs starting in the second trimester and other spanning the entire pregnancy. The analysis included 13 randomized trials that covered some 2,873 pregnant women. Results showed that pregnant women who engaged in exercise programs decreased their risk for gestational diabetes by 31%. Women who exercised during their entire pregnancy did even better, with a 36% decreased risk for gestational diabetes. Engaging in combined exercises lowered the risk for gestational diabetes by 31%.
In addition, women who exercised during pregnancy gained about 1 kg less than those who didn’t. There was no substantial difference in terms of reduced weight gain between exercising throughout pregnancy versus the second trimester. Women who exercised during pregnancy also experienced no adverse effects related to exercise.