Q: What are some easy ways for pregnant diabetics to maintain proper blood sugar levels?

A: Diabetes certainly complicates pregnancy, whether the diabetes was pre-existing or developed during it.  Women diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus are at substantially increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes at some point.  Physical activity should be used as a tool to prevent both gestational and possibly type 2 diabetes onset at a later date.  Engaging in 30 minutes of a moderate-intensity activity like brisk walking most days of the week has been adopted as a recommendation for pregnant women without medical or obstetrical complications. 

Research has studied pregnant women with gestational diabetes in their third trimester who exercised on a cycle or arm ergometer or performed resistance training compared to doing no specific program and found that the women involved in exercise had better glycemic control, lower fasting and post-meal blood glucose levels, and improved cardiorespiratory fitness. It's likely that also simply including more daily activity, including walking and household activities, will help.  The only things to avoid are exercises done flat on your back after the first trimester, heavy weightlifting, and any activity that could potentially damage your unborn child (e.g., water skiing, outdoor cycling, and rapid-direction change sports like racquetball).  If back or leg pain becomes an issue late in pregnancy, consider switching to water-based activities or using indoor exercise equipment. 

Sheri Colberg, PhD, is an exercise physiologist and professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, as well as adjunct professor of internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School.  Having earned a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, she continues to conduct extensive clinical research in diabetes, exercise, aging, and disease prevention with funding from the American Diabetes Association and others. She is the author of eight books, including The Science of Staying Young, and of over 175 research and educational articles.  In addition, she has more than 40 years' worth of experience as a (type 1) diabetic exerciser and person living well with diabetes. More information about her books, articles, and more is available at www.shericolberg.com.