(CNN) – Approximately 18% of women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy — meaning they’re up to seven times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
The good news is that even if you have gestational diabetes, exercise can help.
A new study published this week in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine finds that every two hours of moderate activity (like walking or gardening) each week reduces a women’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 9%. Women who added 2.5 hours or more of moderate activity to their weekly regimen reduced their risk for type 2 diabetes by 47%.
Approximately a third of all women who have been pregnant and have type 2 diabetes were once diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, and occurs when the body doesn’t produce the necessary insulin to help process glucose into energy.
Gestational diabetes occurs when a pregnant woman who has never had diabetes develops high blood sugar levels as pregnancy hormones block her body from properly using insulin.
The study evaluated 116,671 people between the ages of 25 and 44 over 10 years. All of the women were part of the Nurses Health Study, one of the largest surveys of women’s health, and were given questionnaires twice a year.
“We found that women who increased physical activity after gestational diabetes had the lowest risk” of developing type 2 diabetes, said study author Dr. Cuilin Zhang, an epidemiologist with the National Insitutues of Health. Zhang explained that in this study researchers looked specifically at changes in lifestyle habit after pregnancy.
“It’s confirmation of what we know, but it is good to know,” said American Diabetes Association Chief Science and Medical Officer Dr. Robert Ratner, who was not involved in the study.
The federal government recommends at least 2.5 hours or exercise a week for adults.
Ratner acknowledged that for many women with children actually getting out to the gym can sometimes be difficult.
“It’s easy to say get to the gym three times a week, but if you have a 1.5 year old, is that realistic? “
Ratner pointed out that there are many interventions, including the medication metformin, that can help pregnant women manage their diabetes risk.
“The important thing,” said Ratner, “is that these women have options.”