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Exercise during pregnancy may lower infants' risk of type 2 diabetes, study finds

Experts say an active lifestyle may prevent some of the negative effects of an unhealthy diet

Pregnant woman exercising outside
Photo (c) Oscar Wong - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Tohoku University explored how pregnant women who are active can protect their babies' health. According to their findings, infants may be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes when their mothers exercise during pregnancy

“With the growth of maternal obesity, a worrying cycle is forming where the risk of diabetes gets passed down from generation to generation,” said researcher Joji Kusuyama. “Stopping this cycle is a critical and pressing medical problem.” 

Exercise improves metabolic health

The researchers conducted their study on mice to better understand how exercise during pregnancy can affect infants’ likelihood of developing diabetes. They built off previous study findings that showed the placenta protein superoxide dismutase 3 (SOD3) helps pass the benefits of exercise from mother to baby in utero. In this study, the team focused on understanding how the protein may also help prevent significant metabolic health risks during pregnancy. 

The researchers explained that many metabolic infant health risks come from mothers’ unhealthy diets during pregnancy. Eating a lot of foods that are high in fat can affect infants’ glucose metabolism and increase the risk of obesity or type 2 diabetes. 

However, this study showed that exercising can reduce the risk of both of these conditions and even negate some of the risks of high-fat diets. The SOD3 protein, which was produced naturally after exercise, was found to be responsible for preventing the abnormalities that are likely to emerge in infants’ glucose metabolism when women follow unhealthy diets. 

The researchers also tested an antioxidant on the infant mice that is supposed to improve glucose metabolism. While the antioxidant was effective, the SOD3 protein that the mothers’ created naturally after exercise was even more effective at promoting better metabolic health. 

Because of the long-term health benefits associated with the production of SOD3, the researchers hope these findings encourage women to stay physically active during pregnancy. 

“There may be wider benefits of this protein on other organs in the child,” said Kusuyama. “We are currently looking into the modifications in placenta tissue brought about by SOD3 that may have positive lifelong impacts on children.” 

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