Share this article on:

Maternal Exercise Improves Insulin Sensitivity in Mature Rat Offspring


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: May 2013 - Volume 45 - Issue 5 - p 832–840
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31827de953
BASIC SCIENCES: Special Report

Purpose: Recent findings have shown that the intrauterine environment can negatively influence long-term insulin sensitivity in the offspring. Here we look at maternal voluntary exercise as an intervention to improve offspring insulin sensitivity and glucose homeostasis.

Methods: Female Sprague–Dawley rats were split into sedentary and exercise groups with the exercise cohort having voluntary access to a running wheel in the cage before and during mating, pregnancy, and nursing. Female offspring were weaned into sedentary cages. Glucose tolerance tests and hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp were performed in adult offspring to evaluate glucose regulation and insulin sensitivity.

Results: Adult female offspring born to exercised dams had enhanced glucose disposal during glucose tolerance testing (P < 0.05) as well as increased glucose infusion rates (P < 0.01) and whole body glucose turnover rates (P < 0.05) during hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp testing compared with offspring from sedentary dams. Offspring from exercised dams also had decreased insulin levels (P < 0.01) and hepatic glucose production (P < 0.05) during the clamp procedure compared with offspring born to sedentary dams. Offspring from exercised dams had increased glucose uptake in skeletal muscle (P < 0.05) and decreased heart glucose uptake (P < 0.01) compared with offspring from sedentary dams in response to insulin infusion during the clamp procedure.

Conclusions: Exercise during pregnancy enhances offspring insulin sensitivity and improves offspring glucose homeostasis. This can decrease offspring susceptibility to insulin-resistant related diseases such as type 2 diabetes mellitus. Maternal exercise could be an easy, short-term, nonpharmacological method of preventing disease in future generations.

1Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences, College of Medicine, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY; 2Animal Phenotyping Core, Nutrition and Obesity Research Center, Diabetes Research and Training Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI; and 3Laboratory of Experimental Gerontology, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, MD

Address for correspondence: Kevin J. Pearson, Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences, College of Medicine, University of Kentucky, 900 South Limestone, Lexington, KY 40536-0200; E-mail:

Submitted for publication July 2012.

Accepted for publication November 2012.

©2013The American College of Sports Medicine