Pregnancy is an exciting time in a woman’s life.  Although most pregnancies are uneventful, approximately 1 in 5 woman will develop complications that can impact the health of herself or her baby.  One of the most common complications during pregnancy is the development of gestational diabetes mellitus. 

Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM) is a condition where a woman who does not have diabetes before pregnancy develops high blood sugars during her pregnancy.  This condition is diagnosed between 24-28 weeks gestation and affects 6-9% of pregnant women. GDM typically resolves after delivery; however, having GDM increases a woman’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life by 7 times! Treatments for GDM include medications such as insulin or metformin, changes in diet and appropriate exercise.  

            Exercise is a cornerstone for the prevention and treatment of diabetes in individuals who are not pregnant; however, much less is known about whether exercise during pregnancy can prevent GDM.  Recently, our team conducted a large review of all research examining the impact of exercise on GDM and blood sugar control during pregnancy.  Amazingly, we found that just 20 minutes of brisk walking each day reduced the chance of developing GDM by 25%, and the more physical activity the greater the reduction!  This suggests that beginning or continuing an active lifestyle in pregnancy, can have a major benefit for a healthy pregnancy! 

            But what about women who have already developed GDM?  Our review found that going for a 10-15 minute walk improved (reduced) blood sugars and women with GDM who exercised regularly from diagnosis to delivery required less insulin to control their blood sugars. 

            The newly released 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity throughout Pregnancy, is the first fully evidence-based recommendations for exercise during pregnancy to optimize the health of mothers and babies. Our team demonstrated that exercise reduced chances of developing gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and depression without increasing the risk of having a miscarriage, a small baby or preterm birth.  Unless there is another medical reason not to,  all women are encouraged to make physical activity a part of their daily routine in order to take advantage of the significant and potentially lifelong health benefits of exercise for both the mother and the child.  

Written by:

Margie Davenport , PhD

Associate Professor

Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation

University of Alberta





Momentum Health & Wellness