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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