Prenatal exercise can be a game changer in preventing and treating gestational diabetes, a condition on the rise in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year 2-10 percent of pregnant women will develop this condition, and predict a continued rise in reported cases. Fortunately, new research suggests that a regular fitness program during pregnancy may help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of gestational diabetes factors and complications.
Read on to learn more about the condition and how pregnant women can lower their risk.
What is gestational diabetes?
Your body makes a hormone called insulin that plays a key role in regulating your blood sugar level. When you’re pregnant, the cells in your body that use insulin to regulate blood sugar become resistant to this hormone. Pregnancy also may cause your production of insulin to dip, which can further impact your ability to regulate your blood sugar level. The resulting insulin resistance can lead to problems with your baby’s development and your health.
How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?
A glucose tolerance test determines how effectively your body metabolizes glucose. This test is usually done between weeks 24-28 of your pregnancy. If the test shows you have the condition, a doctor will likely prescribe a specific diet. He or she will also prescribe a medication if you’re unable to manage your blood sugar level with diet alone.
What are some complications?
Gestational diabetes can cause issues for both you and your baby. Your baby may have a higher risk of:
- Being too large at birth, which can cause complications during delivery
- Preterm delivery
- Developing type 2 diabetes in adulthood
If you develop the condition, there’s a 50 percent chance that you’ll develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
How can I lower my risk with exercise?
Fine-tuning your exercise program during pregnancy may be an effective way to reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes. Most recent studies on this disease and exercise support the role of prenatal exercise in preventing and managing the disease. Maintaining a higher exercise frequency (approximately six days per week) and exercising for longer durations may assist in managing daily blood sugar levels. Pregnant women at risk of gestational diabetes or who have the disease should perform moderate exercise for at least 30 to 45 minutes, five to six days per week.Be sure to modify any exercise as necessary.
A healthy diet can also help prevent and manage gestational diabetes. “Our diet plays the leading role in blood sugar control,” says Christina Lemon, MS, RD. She recommends requesting a referral to a registered dietitian if you are diagnosed with the condition. Combining a nutrient-dense diet with regular exercise can help reduce or eliminate your risk of developing this condition, keeping you and your baby happy and healthy.
Catherine Cram is an exercise physiologist and a leading expert in the field of maternal fitness. Her consulting company, “Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness” specializes in providing the most current maternal exercise information and continuing education courses to health and fitness professionals.