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Increasing exercise during the first trimester may reduce gestational diabetes risks, study finds

Staying active during pregnancy is important for women and their babies

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Photo (c) JGI Jamie Grill - Getty Images
Adopting healthy habits during pregnancy can have long-lasting benefits for mothers and their babies. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville is providing further evidence to explain why women should try to stay active during pregnancy. 

According to their findings, women who exercise more during the first trimester of pregnancy could lower their risk of developing gestational diabetes

“We know that exercise is safe and healthy for pregnant women,” said researcher Samantha Ehrlich. “These results show that exercise is helpful in avoiding gestational diabetes, though you might need to do a little bit more than currently recommended to enjoy that benefit.” 

Increasing exercise has health benefits

To see what effect exercise can have on gestational diabetes risk, the researchers analyzed data from over 2,200 women involved in the Pregnancy Environment and Lifestyle Study (PETALS). The women completed questionnaires that assessed their physical activity throughout their pregnancies, and the researchers compared those responses with the women’s medical records. 

The study revealed that women who exercised more during their first trimester were at a lower risk of developing gestational diabetes. It’s important to note that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women complete 30 minutes of moderate activity five times per week; however, in this study, the pregnant women who exceeded those totals were gaining the most health benefits. 

The researchers found that exercising each day for approximately 40 minutes was associated with the lowest risk of gestational diabetes and lower blood sugar. Increasing physical activity each day was linked with nearly five fewer cases of high blood sugar per 100 women, as well as 2.1 fewer cases of gestational diabetes per 100 women. 

“We know that six to 10 women per 100 get gestational diabetes,” Ehrlich said. “If being more active could reduce that by two women per 100, that’s a clear benefit.” 

Moving forward, the researchers hope that these findings spark change for pregnancy exercise guidelines. This study has highlighted the health benefits associated with more exercise during the first trimester, and it’s important for pregnant women -- especially those at an increased risk of gestational diabetes -- to have up-to-date information to make the best health choices. 

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