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May 20, 2014 12:52 PM EDT

Exercise May Decrease Type 2 Diabetes Risk In High-Risk Women

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Women who develop type 2 diabetes during pregnancy may be able to lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes with exercise, according to a recent study Reuters reported.

Researchers found that among women who had gestational diabetes, those who increase their physical activity levels by after giving birth had half the longer-term diabetes risk of women who didn't change their activity levels, Reuters reported.

"This is kind of a hopeful message because they may think they are at a high risk of type 2 diabetes, but this shows they shouldn't give up," Dr. Cuilin Zhang, lead author of the study and researcher from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, told Reuters. "Exercise more. It can help."

For the study, researchers looked at more than 4,500 women who had gestational diabetes in the past, and followed them from 1991 to 2007, to examine whether increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviors (such as watching TV) lowered their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

By the end of the study, 635 women had developed type 2 diabetes.

Based on their findings, women who increased their activity level so they were moderately exercising for 150 minutes weekly (or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise) had a 47 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, compared with women who didn't change their activity levels. And the more time women spent watching TV, the higher their risk of type 2 diabetes was.

"These findings suggest a hopeful message to women with a history of gestational diabetes, although they are at exceptionally high risk of type 2 diabetes: Promoting an active lifestyle may lower the risk," the researchers wrote in their study.

Researchers said the new findings are in line with lifestyle changes recommended to prevent type 2 diabetes.

The findings were recently published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

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