Open Access Research article

Physical activity, sedentary behaviors, and estimated insulin sensitivity and secretion in pregnant and non-pregnant women

Anna Gradmark1, Jeremy Pomeroy123, Frida Renström134, Susanne Steiginga15, Margareta Persson6, Antony Wright7, Les Bluck7, Magnus Domellöf8, Steven E Kahn9, Ingrid Mogren10 and Paul W Franks134*

Author Affiliations

1 Genetic Epidemiology and Clinical Research Group, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Section for Medicine, Umeå University Hospital, Umeå, Sweden

2 NIDDK/NIH, Diabetes Epidemiology and Clinical Research Section, Phoenix, AZ, USA

3 Department of Clinical Sciences, Genetic & Molecular Epidemiology Unit, Lund University, Malmö, Sweden

4 Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

5 Free University Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

6 Department of Clinical Science and Department of Nursing, Umeå University Hospital, Umeå, Sweden

7 MRC Human Nutrition Research, Cambridge, UK

8 Department of Pediatrics, Umeå University Hospital, Umeå, Sweden

9 Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology and Nutrition, Department of Medicine, VA Puget Sound Health Care System and University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

10 Department of Clinical Sciences, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Umeå University Hospital, Umeå, Sweden

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2011, 11:44  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-11-44

Published: 16 June 2011



Overweight and obesity during pregnancy raise the risk of gestational diabetes and birth complications. Lifestyle factors like physical activity may decrease these risks through beneficial effects on glucose homeostasis. Here we examined physical activity patterns and their relationships with measures of glucose homeostasis in late pregnancy compared to non-pregnant women.


Normal weight and overweight women without diabetes (N = 108; aged 25-35 years) were studied; 35 were pregnant (in gestational weeks 28-32) and 73 were non-pregnant.

Insulin sensitivity and β-cell response were estimated from an oral glucose tolerance test. Physical activity was measured during 10-days of free-living using a combined heart rate sensor and accelerometer. Total (TEE), resting (REE), and physical activity (PAEE) energy expenditure were measured using doubly-labeled water and expired gas indirect calorimetry.


Total activity was associated with reduced first-phase insulin response in both pregnant (Regression r2 = 0.11; Spearman r = -0.47; p = 0.007) and non-pregnant women (Regression r2 = 0.11 Spearman; r = -0.36; p = 0.002). Relative to non-pregnant women, pregnant women were estimated to have secreted 67% more insulin and had 10% lower fasting glucose than non-pregnant women. Pregnant women spent 13% more time sedentary, 71% less time in moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity, had 44% lower objectively measured total activity, and 12% lower PAEE than non-pregnant women. Correlations did not differ significantly for any comparison between physical activity subcomponents and measures of insulin sensitivity or secretion.


Our findings suggest that physical activity conveys similar benefits on glucose homeostasis in pregnant and non-pregnant women, despite differences in subcomponents of physical activity.

pregnancy; physical activity; sedentary time; β-cell response; insulin sensitivity