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Updated 21 July 2014

Gestational diabetes mellitus and exercise

Aerobic exercise has immediate and long-term beneficial effects on insulin production and glucose utilisation.

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Aerobic exercise has immediate and long-term beneficial effects on insulin production and glucose utilisation.

Exercise can therefore assist in the management of otherwise uncomplicated diabetes mellitus by promoting more efficient use of insulin by the body and therefore a decrease in blood glucose concentration, also in pregnancy. The reduction will occur not only in fasting blood glucose values, but also after meals, thus leading to more even diabetic control.

Possible hypoglycaemia

If you are using insulin to treat your diabetes mellitus, the only risk of regular exercise during pregnancy is that your blood glucose levels may fall to unacceptably low values (hypoglycaemia). Hypoglycaemia may sometimes occur some time after you have stopped exercising. This may require that your carbohydrate intake has to be modified.

Ask your doctor about exercising

Women with diabetes mellitus in pregnancy should not start or continue with any exercise without talking to their doctor. If your diabetes is poorly controlled, it may be harmful to exercise.

Physical exercise is also best avoided by pregnant women with complicated diabetes, such as high blood pressure, kidney, heart or eye problems. Furthermore, there are certain pregnancy complications which may not be related to your diabetes mellitus which may also require that you do not do exercises.

It is therefore important that diabetics discuss the possibility of exercising with their doctors early during a pregnancy.

(Liesel Powell, Health24, updated February 2010)

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