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Wondering How Important Exercise Is During First Trimester? | This New Study Answers Just That

Exercising, as we know is necessary to preserve muscle strength, keep the heart strong, maintain a healthy body weight, and stave off chronic diseases such as diabetes. Most Nigerian women believe that exercising when in their first trimester can hurt their developing babies or cause a miscarriage.

However, according to a new study, pregnant women who exercise more during the first trimester of pregnancy may have a lower risk of developing gestational diabetes.

The study, carried out by researchers from the University of Tennessee, United States, found that lower risk was associated with at least 38 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each day — more than current recommendations of at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

The study, published in Science Daily, was led by Samantha Ehrlich, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health at the university, who maintained that exercise prevents gestational diabetes and its associated complications.

Experts say gestational diabetes refers to diabetes diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy. It can pose serious health problems, including pregnancy and delivery complications, as well as increased future risk for diabetes in both mother and child. Ehrlich said,

“We know that exercise is safe and beneficial for healthy pregnant women.

“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.

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

The observational study was based on women’s self-reported levels of exercise during their first trimester of pregnancy.

It found that exercising at least 38 minutes per day lowered the risk of gestational diabetes by 2.1 cases per 100 women and the risk of abnormal blood sugar by 4.8 cases per 100 women.

READ ALSO: When Not To Exercise During Pregnancy

Another study by experts at Camilo José Cela University, Madrid, Spain in 2017, says there is a strong scientific evidence that maintaining moderate exercise during pregnancy is safe and beneficial for both mother and baby.

The lead author of the study, María Perales, said,

“This goes for women at risk of being overweight or obese or at risk of gestational diabetes and chronic hypertension.

“Among the confirmed benefits are: the prevention of excessive weight gain (a key factor in the intergenerational transmission of obesity) and a lower risk of fetal macrosomia (babies who are born weighing more than four kilograms), pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, caesarean section, lower back pain, pelvic pain and urinary incontinence.”

The World Health Organisation says regular physical activity is key to preventing and helping to manage heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and cancer, as well as reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, reducing cognitive decline, improving memory and boosting brain health.

“Being physically active is critical for health and well-being – it can help to add years to life and life to years,” says WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus.

A Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy, College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Dr. Chris Okafor, told PUNCH HealthWise that generally, exercises are beneficial to pregnant women and have been found to reduce the development and progression of certain conditions.

According to the physiotherapist, exercise aid the movement of blood flow to tissues.

“Exercises are also recommended in the management of chronic conditions like diabetes. The brain cells work better when there is enough oxygenation — blood flow to other tissues in the body. It improves the quality of life and reduces risk of chronic conditions”,

he said.

A Professor of Medicine at the College of Medicine, Lagos State University, Prof. Anthonia Ogbera, also said that besides embracing regular exercise, every pregnant woman should undergo diabetes screening during their first antenatal visit for early detection of the disease.

Ogbera, who is also a Consultant Physician/Endocrinologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, warned that if gestational diabetes is not detected on time, it could lead to complications in pregnancy, including the pregnant woman’s risk of stroke and kidney problem.

The endocrinologist noted that many women in Nigeria are not aware of gestational diabetes and its associated risks. She explained,

“Four to 14 percent of women in Nigeria have diabetes in pregnancy. Women at risk of developing diabetes in pregnancy are those that are obese, women with family history of diabetes and women living with hypertension.

“Others are women with diabetes in previous pregnancy and women who are getting pregnant above the age of 25. So, we advise that women who come for antenatal for the first time be screened for diabetes.”

The professor also counselled pregnant women to embrace healthy living, while appealing to those with risk factors like hypertension to modify their lifestyle.

“Research has shown that with healthy lifestyle, the risk of developing diabetes is lower. People should be physically active. Washing plates and cleaning the house do not translate to being physically active.

“Pregnant women should watch what they eat and consume more of the traditional foods. Healthy lifestyle is the way to go”,

she added.

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