Safe exercise for gestational diabetes

Pregnancy is a wonderful time to begin exercise, and it is very safe. Women with gestational diabetes have so much to gain from starting a specially prescribed exercise program.

Regular physical activity will:

  • Keep you fit to prepare for the birth of your baby
  • Help you achieve your target blood glucose levels
  • Greatly improve yours and your baby’s health, both now and in the future including reducing the risk of the baby growing too big.
  • Reduce or avoid muscle and joint pain like back and sacro-iliac (SI) joint pain.
  • Help maintain a healthy pregnancy weight gain.

Research has also shown that doing some exercise after meals can help women with gestational diabetes hit their recommended target blood glucose levels more often.

What sort of exercise is good?

Exercise recommendations for pregnancy are the same for the general population. They might need some small changes to make them work for you, depending on the stage of your pregnancy and any pregnancy symptoms you may have.

It’s recommended to do:

  • Aerobic exercise like walking, swimming and dancing three to four days per week (at least 150 minutes per week)
  • Strength exercise like Pilates, using weights or resistance bands two to three days per week (have a day off in between sessions)

How intense should it be?   

Moderate. Exercise at a level where you can have a small conversation (i.e. talk for 1-2 sentences), but you can’t sing. Be flexible with what you choose to do, because every day will be different. Do what feels moderate to you at the time.

How long? 

Thirty to sixty minutes a session. If you don’t have time to do 30-60 minutes in one go, you can do ten minutes at a time. Or build up slowly from ten minutes if it has been a while since you have been active.

What exercises are good for gestational diabetes? 

 Low impact aerobic exercises like:
  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Stationary cycling
  • Aquatic exercises
  • Low impact aerobics
Strength training 
  • Use light weights and keep the number of repetitions high around 8-15.
  • Take good rest breaks.
  • Breathe evenly throughout the exercises. Exhale when you’re pushing or pulling the weight and inhale on relaxation.
  • Ensure good posture.
  • Don’t forget your pelvic floor exercises like Kegel exercises where you contract and relax the pelvic floor muscles.
Flexibility exercises 
  • Yoga and Pilates (many gyms and studios will do pregnancy classes)
  • These exercises can help stretch, lengthen and strengthen muscles as well as focus on the abdominal muscles
  • These exercises focus on good breathing techniques and relaxation which are extra benefits
  • Stretching should be slow, controlled and comfortable.

Before getting active we recommend

  • Tell your doctor or midwife that you are planning to become more physically active. They can let you know if what you are planning will be safe for you and your pregnancy.
  • Get a referral to an Accredited Exercise Physiologist for tailored advice about gestational diabetes and pregnancy exercise. They can help you work around your pregnancy symptoms like nausea, back pain or fatigue so you can keep active. Find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at essa.org.au.
  • If you take insulin for your gestational diabetes, it’s important to check your blood glucose levels before, during and after exercise. You’ll need to discuss a safe blood glucose range for exercise with your doctor or diabetes educator. Also ask them about the best times to exercise to avoid when your insulin is working at its peak. This will help to avoid any low blood glucose levels, or hypos.

Safety tips for exercising in pregnancy

  • Avoid activities that involve physical contact or a high risk of falling.
  • Avoid exercising in too warm or humid environments especially in the first trimester. The growing fetus cannot regulate its temperature.
  • Avoid holding your breath during exercise as this places stress on your pelvic floor.
  • Avoid doing exercise laying on your back after the fourth month of pregnancy. Modify the exercises to do on your side, or standing.
  • Avoid being still in the same position for too long (standing, sitting cross legged, some yoga positions) as it may lower your blood pressure.
  • Because of pregnancy hormones your ligaments may become more relaxed. Rapid changes in direction and bouncing should be done with controlled movements.
  • Avoid too many one-sided exercises like walking lunges or single leg step ups in the third trimester.

Know your limits and what works for you – your intuition is high during pregnancy – if it feels good go, if not stop.

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