Gestational Diabetes And Physical Activity


Gestational diabetes is a common condition that arises during pregnancy. A healthy diet and regular physical activity are required to keep the mother and baby healthy. It is commonly a mild disease, but in some cases can be more severe and lead to health complications for the baby. With close management of blood sugar levels with at-home testing kits, the effects of the disease can be minimised. In cases where physical activity and a healthy diet do not ease the symptoms, treatment such as medication or insulin injections may be used to keep the mother and baby healthy. The rest of this article will delve deeper into the disease itself and the symptoms, as well as how physical activity can prevent and help with gestational diabetes.

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that arises during pregnancy, more commonly during the second or third trimester.1 It is diagnosed when a pregnant person has not been diagnosed with any other form of diabetes, such as type 1 or type 2 diabetes and it tends to disappear after pregnancy. It is similar to type 1 and type 2 diabetes, in regards to the fact it is related to high blood sugar levels. During gestational diabetes, insufficient insulin is produced to support the mother and the baby. This means that it is harder to return blood sugar to normal levels following meals, and there is a risk of dangerously high blood sugar levels, which is called hyperglycaemia. 


It is common for people with gestational diabetes to experience very mild or no symptoms at all. Common mild symptoms include an increased frequency of urination, as well as an increase in thirst.2 However, these symptoms are also associated with pregnancy itself, meaning that it is hard to distinguish the symptoms of gestational diabetes. If you are experiencing severe gestational diabetes, the symptoms may include dry mouth, fatigue, and blurred eyesight.3 However, these symptoms may overlap with side effects of  pregnancy in some cases.

Regular exercise helps prevent gestational diabetes

It is known that daily exercise is recommended to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This advice is given to pregnant people to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes as well as to ease the symptoms after diagnosis. Daily exercise can also aid in the safe delivery of the baby. The mechanism of blood sugar reduction through exercise can be explained by process of muscle contraction and increased insulin sensitivity.4 

Muscles use blood glucose during exercise

During exercise, the working muscles require glucose to contract (to allow for movement). The muscles obtain this glucose from the bloodstream, therefore leading to reduction in blood sugar levels. This allows for exercise to act as a natural remedy for gestational diabetes, without the need for medication or insulin injections to lower blood glucose levels. 

Regular physical activity makes muscle cells more sensitive to insulin

An increased sensitivity of muscle cells to glucose is very beneficial, as it means that the cells can take up any available insulin in a more effective way, leading to a reduction of blood sugar. This occurs after exercise, due to changes in muscle proteins involved in glucose and insulin mechanisms to reduce blood sugar levels. Another mechanism that may contribute to increased insulin sensitivity is associated with glycogen breakdown. Evidence shows that exercise consistently leads to glycogen depletion and an increase in insulin sensitivity, which are possibly linked.5 Strength training also increases the number of muscle cells, which leads to increased insulin sensitivity.

What kind of exercise is safe during pregnancy?

Mild to moderate exercise is safe to engage in during pregnancy. However, it would be best to consult with a doctor before undertaking any intense exercise. As a guide, the NHS recommends completing 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, which could consist of half an hour of fast-paced walking for 5 days a week.6 The other two days of the week should consist of strength training, such as focusing on the legs with squats and lunges, or focusing on the upper body with press-ups or bicep curls. Again, it is important to speak with your GP about intense strength training as this form of heavy training may or may not be suitable for you.

The most common exercises that can be done during pregnancy include walking, running, yoga or swimming. Sports such as contact sports should be avoided as they can cause direct harm to the baby, such as rugby, judo, or basketball. Scuba diving should also be avoided at all costs, as it is very dangerous to the baby due to gas bubbles that can develop in their bloodstream. Also, high altitude sports should also be avoided as there is a risk of altitude sickness on the parent and baby.7


Physical activity during pregnancy depends on personal preference to an extent. People with gestational diabetes may choose to increase their efforts to exercise daily in an attempt to keep their baby safe and reduce progression of the disease to severe stage. Aside from physical activity, it is important to note that other lifestyle changes will also benefit people with gestational diabetes, such as a healthy balanced diet with low sugar and fat. 


  1. Gestational diabetes [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Oct 21]. Available from:
  2. Gestational diabetes - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2022 Oct 21]. Available from: 
  3. What is gestational diabetes? [Internet]. Diabetes UK. [cited 2022 Oct 21]. Available from: 
  4. Blood sugar and exercise | ada [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 21]. Available from: 
  5. Jensen J, Rustad P, Kolnes A, Lai YC. The role of skeletal muscle glycogen breakdown for regulation of insulin sensitivity by exercise. Frontiers in Physiology [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2022 Oct 21];2. Available from:
  6. Gestational diabetes - Treatment [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Oct 21]. Available from:
  7. Exercise in pregnancy [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2022 Oct 21]. Available from:

Paula Messa

BSc, Biomedical Sciences, University of Bristol, England

I am a recent graduate with a passion for healthcare. I am taking a year out to go travelling and get some experience in medical writing. I am hoping to do a Masters in Global Health next year, to allow me to work in humanitarian settings or in policy in the future. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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