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BJOG release: Moderate exercise helps prevent gestational diabetes and reduce weight gain during pregnancy

News 3 June 2015

Women who exercise during pregnancy are less likely to have gestational diabetes, and the exercise also helps to reduce maternal weight gain, finds a study published today (3 June) in BJOG: an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Gestational diabetes is one of the most frequent complications of pregnancy. It is associated with an increased risk of serious disorders such as pre-eclampsia, hypertension, preterm birth, and with induced or caesarean birth. It can have long term effects on the mother including long term impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes. The children of mothers with gestational diabetes are more likely to become overweight or obese and have a higher risk of developing diabetes themselves.

Gaining more weight than is recommended during pregnancy carries similar risks, and these women are also less likely to lose the excess weight after the baby is born.

In this systematic review, the research team from Spain looked at the results of enrolling healthy pregnant women, who did little or no exercise, into exercise programmes. Analysis of 13 trials, involving more than 2,800 women, found that exercise reduced the risk of gestational diabetes by more than 30% - for women who exercised throughout pregnancy this was even greater (36%). This effect was strongest for women who combined toning, strength, flexibility and aerobic exercise.

Exercise was also helpful in reducing excessive weight gain – those who exercised were on average a kilogram lighter. This held true for the weight gain even if the exercise programme was started in the second trimester of pregnancy.

Gema Sanabria- Martinez, from Virgen de la Luz Hospital and lead author of the study, said, “Exercise is not something to be feared during pregnancy - the moderate levels of exercise used in these studies had significantly positive effects on health and were found to be safe for both mother and baby.”

Mike Marsh, BJOG Deputy Editor-in-chief added, “This careful analysis of previous studies shows a beneficial effect of exercise on healthy pregnant women who ordinarily did little or no exercise. It may influence recommendations for exercise in pregnancy in such women. Further studies are needed to establish whether this effect is seen in all pregnant women.”


For further information, please contact the RCOG Media and PR team on +44 20 7772 6300 or email


BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology is owned by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) but is editorially independent and published monthly by Wiley. The journal features original, peer-reviewed, high-quality medical research in all areas of obstetrics and gynaecology worldwide. Please quote ‘BJOG’ or ‘BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology’ when referring to the journal and include the website: as a hidden link online.

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The advice from the RCOG is that pregnant women should exercise if possible as it can help with the physical changes during pregnancy, reduce length of labour, and improve blood sugar levels for those with gestational diabetes. For guidance see the RCOG Patient Information on exercise and weight management during pregnancy, and the NICE guidelines on diabetes in pregnancy.


G Sanabria-Martínez, A García-Hermoso, R Poyatos-León, C Álvarez-Bueno, M Sánchez-López and V Martínez-Vizcaíno. Effectiveness of physical activity interventions on preventing gestational diabetes mellitus and excessive maternal weight gain: a meta-analysis. BJOG: an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology DOI: 10.1111/1471-0528.13429

Obesity and Women's Health

In January 2016 BJOG will be publishing a special themed issue on Obesity and Women's Health focussing on all aspects of the impact of obesity on women's health, from basic science and epidemiological considerations to clinical challenges, interventions and where the future lies. The issue will led by Dr Pierre Martin Hirsch, BJOG Scientific Editor and Dr Emma Crosbie, BJOG Executive Editor, along with guest editors.