March 21, 2016
2 min read

Physical activity reduces risk for gestational diabetes

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Chinese women who engage in moderate to high levels of physical activity during pregnancy are significantly less likely to develop gestational diabetes than women who are more sedentary, recent study findings show.

“Physical activity during pregnancy has potential benefits for reducing [gestational diabetes] not only among women who are overweight or obese at pregnancy, but also among women who have normal body weight,” Xilin Yang, PhD, professor in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics, School of Public Health, Tianjin Medical University, China, told Endocrine Today. “This study provides data supporting the notion that lifestyle modification is effective to reduce the risk for [gestational diabetes].”

Xilin Yang

Xilin Yang

Yang and colleagues analyzed data from 11,450 pregnant women recruited at 12 weeks gestational age between 2010 and 2012 (mean age, 29 years; 19.8% with overweight; 6.5% with obesity). Participants underwent a 50-g, 1-hour glucose challenge test between 24 and 28 weeks of gestation, followed by a 75-g, 2-hour test if results from the first test were more than 7.8 mmol/L. Physical activity (defined as occupational, commuting, leisure-time and housework physical activity) and sedentary time were self-reported via a questionnaire 1 month before the glucose tolerance test. “Low” physical activity was classified as between 0 and 29 minutes per day; “moderate to high” physical activity was classified as more than 30 minutes per day. Researchers used binary logistic regression models to obtain ORs of physical activity and sedentary behaviors for gestational diabetes risk.

Within the cohort, 81.4% were engaged in moderate to high physical activity; 46.9% reported sitting at home for 2 to 4 hours per day and 43.2% for more than 4 hours per day; 840 women developed gestational diabetes (7.3%).

Researchers found that women who developed gestational diabetes were less likely to be engaged in moderate to high levels of physical activity than those who did not develop gestational diabetes (79.8% vs. 81.6%; P = .19). In multivariable analysis, moderate to high levels of physical activity were associated with a decreased risk for gestational diabetes (OR = 0.81; 95% CI, 0.67-0.97). Sitting at home for 2 to 4 hours per day and for more than 4 hours per day significantly increased gestational diabetes risk vs. sitting for less than 2 hours per day (P = .002 for trend); models changed only slightly after adjusting for prepregnancy BMI, according to researchers.

“Given the high prevalence of [gestational diabetes] and its adverse short-term and long-term health outcomes, we need to find ways to identify the high-risk group for [gestational diabetes] in early pregnancy and to test whether these women can benefit from lifestyle modification in early pregnancy using randomized controlled trial designs, especially multicenter randomized controlled trials,” Yang said. – by Regina Schaffer

For more information:

Xilin Yang, PhD, can be reached at the School of Public Health, Tianjin Medical University, Tianjin 300070, China; email:

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.