Exercising with Gestational Diabetes

30 minutes of moderate physical activity is recommended
30 minutes of moderate physical activity is recommended

If you develop gestational diabetes, it's important to get plenty of exercise. However, exercising during pregnancy can be a tricky balance - especially when you have gestational diabetes - and you may well have questions.

Why do women with gestational diabetes need to exercise?

Gestational diabetes occurs when your body becomes resistant to the insulin it produces during pregnancy. This happens as a result of the increased insulin demands imposed by pregnancy. When you have gestational diabetes, your blood glucose levels run higher than they normally would.

One way to lower blood glucose levels is to exercise. When we exercise, our muscles take in more glucose. When this effect wears off, our muscles remain more sensitive to insulin for some time. [152] The end result is lower blood glucose levels.

Along with following a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise is an important part of managing gestational diabetes. [153]

How much exercise should I be getting?

If you can, aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day - that's the ideal. If you can't fit that into your schedule, not to worry - the important thing is that you get some exercise, even if it's as small an activity as getting off the bus a stop early and walking the rest of the way.

If you weren't particularly active before you got pregnant, 30 minutes per day might be a bit of a stretch. It might be more sensible to start with 15 minutes of exercise, and work your way up slowly as you feel more comfortable.

Your personal targets may be different, and your exercise targets might change during the pregnancy. Speak to your doctor about it.

The exercise you do should always be moderate, not too strenuous. Think of moderate exercise as the kind that leaves you slightly out of breath, with a faster heart rate, and sweating.

Avoiding hypoglycemia

Different types and durations of exercise can have different effects on blood glucose levels. The specifics can be quite complicated. Generally speaking, moderate exercise does not raise blood glucose levels, it lowers them. If you are on certain glucose-lowering medications such as insulin, for example, prolonged moderate exercise can cause hypoglycemia.

If you take any medication to lower your blood glucose levels, speak to your doctor. They can tell you if you are at risk of hypoglycemia.

Blood sugar levels

Strenuous exercise can raise blood glucose levels in the short term, because the body may release stored glucose to keep up with the body's heightened demand for energy. In most cases, blood sugar levels should back down during or shortly after exercise, unless you exercised in a very short burst.

The only way to know for sure is by trial and error. Test your blood glucose levels before and after you exercise. If you have high blood glucose levels after exercising, you can decrease the intensity of the exercise next time, and maybe increase the duration. [153]

For example, you may spend 15 minutes jogging on a treadmill, with some short, intense sprints. Afterwards, if you find that your blood glucose levels are too high, this is likely to be because the sprints are too intense. To prevent high blood glucose levels, you could try cutting out the sprints, and increasing the duration of your jogging to 30 minutes.

Test your blood and try things out. Eventually you'll find an exercise regimen that works for you.

Does exercising while pregnant harm the baby (or the mother)?

Moderate exercise certainly doesn't. Many people think that strenuous exercise can harm the baby, but most studies indicate that it doesn't. [154] Of course, certain activities aren't suitable for pregnant women - you can read about this a little further down the page.

In most cases, exercise won't harm the mother, either. In fact, it should make her healthier. Strenuous exercise, however, puts a lot more strain on a woman's heart while she's pregnant. This is because women have more blood in their bodies when they're carrying a baby, so the heart has to pump more of it during exercise.

What are some good (and bad) exercises for women with gestational diabetes?

Aerobic exercises are good for women with gestational diabetes. That includes:

30 minutes per day of any of these activities should raise your heart rate and leave you sweating.

Exercise that strengthens your stomach can prevent backache as your baby grows. Many activities, however, are not suitable for pregnant women.

These include:

  • Exercises that involve lying down on your back, particularly after 16 weeks
  • Contact sports, especially martial arts
  • Any sports that involve a high risk of falling. Pregnancy changes your centre of gravity, and that affects your balance. Avoid exercises that involve a high risk of falling. That includes any sports that involve a lot of changes in direction, such as badminton and tennis
  • Scuba diving

Speak to your doctor about exercising with gestational diabetes. With their help, you can work out an exercise regimen that's right for you.

Explore Gestational Diabetes