Exercise to manage Gestational Diabetes

As our lifestyles change and women have children at a later age the prevalence of Gestational Diabetes has risen. Currently 68 Australian women are diagnosed every day.

There are many treatment options available including dietary changes implemented by an Accredited Dietitian and regular exercise prescribed by an Accredited Exercise Physiologist. Regular exercise can help manage blood sugar levels, and improve the health and well being of both mum and bubs.

Never fear, this exercise doesn’t have to be hours in a gym, it can be as gentle as a daily walk!

What is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational Diabetes is typically tested for at 24 – 28 weeks gestation. For the test the mother usually has blood samples taken before and after a sugary drink being consumed. Gestational Diabetes is diagnosed when the mothers blood sugar levels are too high before the sugary drink is consumed (fasted blood sugar level >5.1mmol) or too high 2 hours after the drink has been consumed (blood sugar level >8.5mmol).

Try to imagine insulin is a key, floating through the blood stream, unlocking doors to allow sugar to enter the cells. During pregnancy the placenta releases hormones which reduce the mother’s sensitivity to insulin, so the key no longer goes in to the door as easily as it did before.

This means her placenta must release more insulin to allow sugar to enter the cells around her body. Gestational Diabetes occurs when the mother’s pancreas is unable to release enough insulin (keys) to get all the sugar in to her cells (through the door), which increases the amount of sugar floating around in her blood. If not properly controlled, this additional sugar will instead go to baby resulting in a heavier birth weight and placing stress on the baby’s developing pancreas.

How does Exercise help manage Gestational Diabetes?

Exercise helps manage Gestational Diabetes by increasing the number of doors available for the insulin keys to fit in. This subsequently increases the amount of sugar which can be burned by cells.

Exercise also helps reduce blood sugar levels through the additional energy expended during the exercise and in the hours after exercise which further assists in reducing blood sugar levels.

What is the best type of Exercise?

The ideal exercise program is something you can complete most days of the week. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist can create an individualised exercise program, including a mix of both aerobic exercise and strength training.

Options include walking, swimming, light weights training, body weight exercises and Pilates. Daily pelvic floor strengthening exercises are also an important inclusion for all pregnant women.

For optimal results you should aim to complete aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes 5 days per week, and 8 – 12 different strength exercises 3 days per week. These strength exercises should target major muscles all over the body.

Things to consider

  • Always check with your obstetrician or midwife prior to beginning a new exercise program
  • Always seek guidance from an Accredited Exercise Physiologist for exercise prescription
  • Speak to your obstetrician, midwife or diabetes educator for guidance on exercise timing if you are taking insulin medications



References: Queensland Clinical Guidelines: Gestational Diabetes Mellitus 2015, Better Health Channel – Diabetes Gestational