New research shows that exercising immediately prior to and during pregnancy restores key tissues in the body, making them better able to manage blood sugar levels and lowering the risk of long term health problems.
The study, which used mice, was published in the journal Physiological Reports by researchers at the University of Cambridge. According to Science Daily, the findings emphasize the importance of an active lifestyle when planning a pregnancy.
Being overweight or obese during pregnancy increases the risk of complications in the mother, such as gestational diabetes, and predisposes both her and her infant to develop metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes in the years after pregnancy.
Exercise improves how the body manages blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome in non-pregnant women. It also has positive effects prior to and during pregnancy, with beneficial outcomes for both mother and her child. However, little is known about the changes that exercise causes to the tissues of obese pregnant mother.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge fed mice a sugary, high fat diet such that they become obese and then the obese mice were exercised. The mice exercised on a treadmill for 20 minutes a day for at least a week before their pregnancy and then for 12.5 minutes a day until day 17 of the pregnancy (pregnancy lasts for around 20 days in mice). The researchers found that the beneficial effects on metabolic health in obese mothers related to changes in how molecules and cells communicate in maternal tissues during pregnancy.
"A moderate level of exercise immediately before and then during pregnancy leads to important changes in different tissues of the obese mother, effectively making the tissues more like those seen in non-obese mothers," says Dr. Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri, a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow from the Centre for Trophoblast Research in the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, who co-led the study.
The key organs of the mother that were affected by exercise were the white adipose tissue, the skeletal muscle and the liver. Exercise affected major signalling pathways involved in responding to insulin in storage and breakdown of lipids and in growth and the synthesis of proteins.
In addition, the team's previous work showed that exercise improves sensitivity to insulin and glucose handling throughout the whole body in the obese mother. It also prevents the development of insulin resistance in the offspring of obese mothers after birth. Low insulin sensitivity/insulin resistance requires larger amounts of insulin to control blood glucose levels.