At a glance
- If you have diabetes and are pregnant, check with your doctor if you plan to continue or start an exercise programme.
- Ask your doctor for specific guidelines on controlling diabetes when you exercise. Exercising safely may mean having to take extra care to monitor ketones and blood sugar.
- It’s commonly recommended that pregnant women undertake moderate exercise for 30 minutes a day, but you should consult your doctor for specific advice.
Does my pregnancy mean lifestyle changes?
Congratulations! You’re pregnant. You have a lot to do before the baby comes — set up the nursery, baby-proof the house and stock up on diapers. But if you have diabetes, protecting your baby’s health should be at the top of your to-do list. You wonder if it’s still safe for you to do some of your favourite activities, like your nightly neighbourhood walks and your weekend aerobics classes.
Is exercise during pregnancy safe?
Exercising during pregnancy is generally safe for women with type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. In fact, exercise is often a part of the treatment plan for gestational diabetes. Exercise can lead to better blood sugar control and improve your stamina. Check with your doctor, though, before you continue or start an exercise programme. Exercise is not safe for all pregnant women. Women with these or other conditions may not be able to exercise:
- Poor blood sugar control
- High risk for pre-term labor
- Vaginal bleeding
- Premature rupture of membranes
- Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
Diabetes control during exercise
Women who take insulin are especially prone to hypoglycaemia during exercise and should take extra care. Test blood sugars before exercise, during your workout and after exercise. Doctors often suggest that women check for ketones if the blood sugar is high. Do not exercise when your blood sugar is very high or you are positive for ketones. Your doctor can give you specific guidelines. It is very important to know safe blood sugar levels for exercise when you take insulin. When you work out you are at a higher risk for a low blood sugar reaction (hypoglycaemia). Keep a healthy snack and other low blood sugar supplies nearby during exercise in case of hypoglycaemia. Talk to your doctor about a treatment plan in case your blood sugar becomes too low. Follow these tips for a safe exercise session:
- Exercise is usually safest when blood sugar levels are between 5 and 8mmol/l (90 and 140 mg/dL ). Ask your doctor what blood sugar level is safest for you and your baby.
- Exercise for less than 45 minutes at a time.
- Limit the strenuous part of your exercise to 15 minutes.
- Warm up before and cool down after exercise.
- Eat a healthy meal 1 to 3 hours before you exercise.
- Drink water before, during and after working out.
- Do not exercise when insulin is peaking.
- Ask your doctor how to feel your uterus for contractions during exercise. If you feel contractions, you should stop the exercise right away and call your doctor.
- Wear shoes that fit well. Check your feet daily for irritated areas, blisters, calluses and ingrown toenails.
What types of exercises are safe?
If you were exercising before pregnancy, you may simply be able to stick with your workout routine. If you are just starting an exercise programme, start slowly. In any case, check with your doctor first. It’s recommended by many health authorities that most pregnant women exercise at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes each day. These exercises are generally safe:
- Stationary bicycling
- Low-impact aerobics
Exercises to avoid:
- Activities with a high risk of falling, such as skiing or horseback riding.
- Contact sports like soccer or hockey.
- Scuba diving
- Any exercise that requires lying on your back (after the third month of pregnancy).
- Any exercise where you strain, hold your breath or make sudden movements.
Stop exercising and call your doctor right away if you experience:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Decrease in fatal activity
- Low back pain
An exercise programme that gets your doctor’s approval may help to control blood sugar better and boost your energy levels. If you feel lightheaded or have any other symptoms of low blood sugar, stop exercising, follow your treatment plan for hypoglycaemia and then contact your doctor.
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