In Women with Gestational Diabetes, Exercise Lowers Type 2 Diabetes Risk

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Women who have gestational diabetes — a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and usually ends after the baby's delivery — can lower their risk of later developing type 2 diabetes by starting up an exercise routine, a new study has found.

Having gestational diabetes may provide an opportunity for patients to recognize their increased risk of type 2 diabetes and take steps to prevent it, the researchers said.

In the study, the researchers looked at more than 4,500 women who had gestational diabetes in the past, and followed them from 1991 to 2007, to examine whether increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviors (such as watching TV) lowered their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

By the end of the study period, 635 women had developed type 2 diabetes. The researchers found that women who increased their activity level so they were moderately exercising for 150 minutes weekly (or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise) had a 47 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, compared with women who didn't change their activity levels.

Conversely, the more time women spent watching TV, the higher their risk of type 2 diabetes was, according to the study, published today (May 19) in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. [9 Healthy Habits You Can Do in 1 Minute (Or Less)]

"These findings suggest a hopeful message to women with a history of gestational diabetes, although they are at exceptionally high risk of type 2 diabetes: Promoting an active lifestyle may lower the risk," the researchers wrote in their study.

Gestational diabetes is somewhat common: The condition occurs in about 2 to 10 percent of pregnancies. It is also a sign of higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life — women who have had gestational diabetes have a 35 to 60 percent chance of developing diabetes in the next 10 to 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In both type 2 and gestational diabetes, body cells become unable to respond to the hormone insulin, and the body is unable to properly metabolize sugar, the body's main source of energy. Many patients with gestational diabetes can control their blood-sugar levels by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, but some women must also take insulin.

The new findings are in line with lifestyle changes recommended to prevent type 2 diabetes. People with high blood sugar who are at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes can reduce their risk of developing the condition by 58 percent if they lose 5 to 7 percent of their weight and get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, according to the CDC.

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Bahar Gholipour
Staff Writer
Bahar Gholipour is a staff reporter for Live Science covering neuroscience, odd medical cases and all things health. She holds a Master of Science degree in neuroscience from the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, and has done graduate-level work in science journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has worked as a research assistant at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives at ENS.