Staying active during pregnancy is the best thing for you – and your baby, Cindy Tilney tells us.
While exercise may not be what you feel like doing when you’re expecting, experts agree that it has a host of benefits – besides being a natural mood-lifter, there’s no denying how good it is for you. “In pregnancy, it’s always better to exercise than not – even with a chronic disease such as diabetes,” says personal trainer Shelley Lewin, who offers specialised pre- and postnatal exercises in Cape Town. “Staying active is not only important for the physical and emotional health of the expecting mother – research has shown that unborn babies thrive if their moms are active. Unless you have a specific medical condition that puts you and your unborn child at high risk during pregnancy, it can only work to your advantage,” she says. “And in people with diabetes, it can help the body to process glucose more effectively.”
What can exercise do for pregnant diabetics?*
- Lower blood sugar
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Control blood pressure
- Increase energy
- Reduce after-meal blood sugar spikes
- Encourage restful sleep
- Lower gestational weight gain.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
*Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes
Remember: If you have diabetes, it is essential to get the all-clear from your doctor before starting an exercise programme, particularly if you are pregnant.
“Exercise in any form may require a reduced amount of insulin because exercise increases glucose uptake in the cells,” explains biokineticist Sarah Hall. “The intensity of the exercise you are doing will determine this: lower-intensity exercise can lead to a recommended insulin reduction of roughly 20%, as opposed to a possible 50% with higher intensity exercise.” This is further complicated by insulin needs often doubling during pregnancy, so consulting a doctor is a must.
Healthy exercise tips during pregnancy:
- Check your blood sugar before and after exercise (Type 1 diabetics).
- Always take a ‘quick-fix’ snack, such as a banana, along with you when you exercise, so that you have a sugar source on hand in case of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
- Stay away from forms of exercise that carry a high risk of falling, and avoid lying on your back with the head below the level of the heart, as this can restrict the blood flow to your baby.
- Wear a heart rate monitor during cardiovascular exercise, and keep your heart rate to 140bpm or below. In the past, there was a widely held belief that pregnant women should stay away from all cardiovascular exercise – but modern research has shown that this does not hold true.
The good news? If you’ve been exercising regularly, you can carry on very much as normal, agree Hall and Lewin – provided the activities are not extremely high impact, do not involve fast or sharp changes in direction, or cause surges in blood pressure or adrenalin.
Ideal pregnancy exercise
Both experts recommend 30 minutes of moderate physical activity three times a week, such as walking, swimming, aqua aerobics and light weight lifting under the guidance of a certified ante-natal instructor. The ligaments tend to naturally relax during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, so be careful not to overstretch during warm-ups – and if you are weight training, use machines rather than free weights to avoid any hyperextension injuries.
“Building up core strength is important in pregnancy,” says Lewin, “but as your tummy grows, you should stay away from certain intense core exercises, such as tummy crunches – instead opt for opposite leg and arm lifts, or practice stability work on a Pilates ball.” Kegel exercises are also important during pregnancy, as they strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
Be gentle with yourself during pregnancy: stay away from contact sports and aggressive forms of exercise. And be aware of your body and how hard you are pushing yourself during workouts. “The ‘talk test’ is always a good marker of whether you are pushing yourself too hard,” says Lewin. “If you are exercising at the right level, you should be able to talk at the same time – but if you’re struggling to take in breath and unable to hold a conversation, it means you are pushing yourself too hard.”
Find out more about pregnancy exercise at www.homefit.co.za
“Staying active is not only important for the physical and emotional health of the expecting mother – research has shown that unborn babies thrive if their moms are active.”
Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist
Don’t exercise if you have:
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension
- Ruptured membranes
- Placenta praevia
- Vaginal bleeding of any kind
- Incompetent cervix (when the cervix is weak and opens too early)
- Or if you are expecting twins or more
If you experience any of the following during exercise, stop immediately and seek medical help:
- Sudden calf swelling
- Decreased foetal movement
- Chest pains
- Any amniotic leakage
- Excessive overheating
Getting active every day can feel like a bit too much to ask for… Which is why Cindy Tilney’s asked the experts to give us easy ways to keep fit – no matter how old you are!
We all know exercise is good for us, but exercising to the max – especially in later life – can be too much of a good thing. It’s essential not to stress the body by exercising too hard, says Professor Wayne Derman, the Director of the U-Turn Chronic Disease Lifestyle Rehabilitation Programme based at the UCT Sports Science Institute of South Africa. “When planning an exercise routine, it’s important to consider any medical condition you might have, as well as any medication you’re taking and how it may affect you while exercising,” says Prof. Derman.
Older age also comes with a bigger chance of aches and pains because of problems like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis – if these names ring a bell, it’s a good idea to be more careful about the kind of exercise you choose, and to consult a medical professional (a biokineticist, physiotherapist or sports physician) when planning an exercise routine. Be sure to check if any medications you are on will interfere with this routine, reminds Prof. Derman.
“It’s essential to go for a health check and orthopaedic assessment before starting any exercise programme,” says biokineticist, Sarah Hall.
Get checked for:
- Cardiac weakness
- Any existing injuries
- High blood pressure
- Ischaemia (restriction in blood supply)
- Uncontrolled diabetes
Also be aware that falls are more likely if your balance isn’t what it used to be.
The right kind of exercise has benefits for every chronic condition, says Prof. Derman. But watch out for:
- Feeling breathless to the point that you can’t talk when exercising
- Any pain.
“The saying ‘no pain no gain’ is not true,” he says. “Your body should be in a state of relative comfort while exercising.”
So what should you do?
It’s important to include all of these steps in an optimal exercise programme, as they all have different functions, say Derman and Hall. These include:
- The warm up: This involves stretching and preparing your body for exercise.
- Flexibility training/stretching: This focuses on increasing the range of motion of the joints and stretching the body to release tension in the major muscle groups – calves, quads, glutes, hamstrings, back, chest and arms.
- The aerobic phase: Involves movement of the large muscle groups to increase the heart rate. It can be walking, jogging, cycling, aqua aerobics or rowing, for example.
- Muscle strength resistance training: Using elastic bands or circuit training to make muscles stronger. This is particularly important for people with diabetes, as it can help the muscles involved in the absorption of insulin to become more sensitive, which helps blood sugar control.
- Stability training: Exercises like plank position that help balance and core stability.
- The cool down: This involves stretching and relaxation to allow the heart rate to go back to normal and the body to return to a resting state.
Remember: The goal is to exercise 20 to 30 minutes on most days of the week.
3 Top tips for people with diabetes:
- Don’t begin exercising if your blood sugar is either too high or too low (over 16 or below 4.8).
- If you are using insulin, always take something sweet with you when you exercise, in case of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
- Avoid injecting into large muscle groups just before exercising.
What kind of exercise is best for older people with diabetes?
We asked biokineticist Sarah Hall to give us a sample exercise routine. Here’s what she said:
Warm up: 5-10 minute brisk walk
Stretch: Standing calf and quad stretch, chest, shoulder and bicep stretch, lying down hamstring stretch and cat stretch for the back
Aerobic: Step for 2 minutes
Muscle strength: Like bicep curls, wall push-ups and abdominal crunches (sit-ups)
Aerobic: Walk or jog on the spot for 2 minutes
Stability: Plank position