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Gestational Diabetes: Safe Exercise

Topic Overview

Exercise is an important part of treating gestational diabetes. It can help lower your blood sugar level. It also can improve your posture, relieve back pain and other discomforts related to pregnancy, and prepare you for the challenge of childbirth. If you exercise regularly, you may be able to avoid having to take insulin. If you do take insulin, regular exercise may make it possible for you to take a smaller amount.

Most women can begin or continue to exercise during pregnancy. Try to do at least 2½ hours of moderate exercise a week.1, 2 One way to do this is to be active 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week.

If you have never exercised regularly or were not exercising before you became pregnant, talk with your doctor before you start exercising. Exercise that does not place too much stress on your lower body—such as using an arm ergometer, a machine that just works your arm muscles; or riding a recumbent bicycle, a type of bike with a seat that looks like a chair—are especially good for pregnant women. You may also want to try special exercise classes for pregnant women or other low-impact activities such as swimming or walking.

Avoid overheating and dehydration

Drink plenty of water before, during, and after you are active. This is very important when it's hot out and when you do intense exercise.

Stay at your prepregnancy level of fitness

In the early stages of pregnancy, most women can do the same type of exercise they were doing before pregnancy including jogging, biking, roller-skating, or skiing. As your pregnancy advances, you may want to slow down or do less strenuous activities such as walking and swimming.

Be careful

Unless you are a competitive athlete, avoid strenuous activity, and exercise in moderation. You should be able to talk while working out and you should never feel exhausted. Stop and call your doctor if you notice any symptoms such as:

  • Excessive fatigue or shortness of breath.
  • Pain or cramping (especially in your back or pelvic area).
  • Vaginal bleeding or leakage of fluid.
  • Dizziness.
  • Pounding heartbeat or unusual sensations in your chest.
  • Persistent contractions.
  • Decreased fetal movement.

After the fourth month, avoid any exercise that requires you to lie flat on your back on a hard surface. The increasing size and weight of your uterus will press on the large blood vessel that returns blood from your lower body to your heart.

As you get further along in your pregnancy, you may feel less stable on your feet or have trouble balancing well. At this point, you should avoid any activities that may cause you to fall, such as skiing or roller-skating.

During pregnancy, do not:

  • Start a new or more strenuous exercise program without checking with your doctor first.
  • Use exercise to lose weight.
  • Exercise if you feel hungry.
  • Exercise during hot, humid weather, or if you are not feeling well.
  • Continue dangerous sports, such as horseback or motorcycle riding, water skiing, diving, parachute jumping, or scuba diving.

If you have a history of repeated miscarriages, your doctor may advise you to avoid exercises that require your body to bear extra weight (such as running) during the first 3 months. There is no evidence, though, that exercise causes miscarriage.

Your baby will not be harmed if you can't exercise because of a complication of your pregnancy or an existing chronic illness or condition. You may be able to do simple exercises in bed, with your doctor's approval.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/default.aspx.
  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2002, reaffirmed 2007). Exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 267. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 99(1): 171–173.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Lois Jovanovic, MD - Endocrinology
Last Revised November 14, 2013

Last Revised: November 14, 2013

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