Physical Activity and Diabetes

Exercise is an important way to help control diabetes. High blood sugar levels and being overweight can make diabetes worse. Exercise helps to control weight, lower blood sugar levels and prevent heart diseases.

Exercise can also reduce blood pressure and lower fat levels in your blood. Exercise helps you look and feel better, reduces stress and helps in building strong bones and muscles.

What kind of exercise is good for you?

Talk to your doctor about what kind of exercise is important for you. The exercise you can do will mainly depend on whether you have any other health problems.

Most doctors suggest aerobic exercises. These exercises make you breathe more deeply and make your heart function harder, for example walking, jogging, aerobic dance or bicycling.

If you have any problem with the nerves in your feet or legs, your doctor will need you to do a specific type of exercise that will not put too much strain on your feet. Some examples include swimming, bicycling exercises.

No matter what kind of exercise you do, you will need to warm up before you start exercising and also need to cool down when you stop. For warm up doing a low-intensity exercise such as walking for 5 to 10 minutes is necessary. You can also repeat these steps after exercising to cool down.

When you start an exercise program, progress slowly. Step by step increase the intensity and length of your workout as you start feeling more fit. Talk to your doctor for detailed advice.

For people who have diabetes, are there any risks in exercising?

Yes, but the benefits far outweigh the risks. Exercise helps your body to utilize more insulin. Exercising regularly will make your body more sensitive to insulin.

It is very important to check your blood sugar level always before and after exercising. Ask your doctor about ideal blood sugar levels before and after exercise.

How will you know if your blood sugar is too low while exercising?

Hypoglycemia usually occurs slowly, so you will need to pay proper attention to how you are feeling during exercise. You may notice a change in your heartbeat. You may feel shaky or anxious, or all of sudden, start sweating more than normal.

When you start noticing above symptoms, please stop exercising and follow your doctor's advice about how to treat hypoglycemia.

People with diabetes should always carry at least 15 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate like toffees or glucose tablets with them at all times in case of hypoglycemia.

Getting Started –

  • Find an exercise you like to do. You do not want to exercise unless it is fun. Easy exercise to do includes cycling, swimming, walking, bicycling and dancing.
  • Find a friend to help you get going. It’s fun to do exercise when you have company.
  • Get your family involved too. Exercise is good for everyone.
  • Always talk to your doctor before you start to exercise. You need to choose an exercise program that is right for you.
  • Wear a medical id. In case of an emergency, people will know that you have diabetes.
  • Try to exercise everyday at least for 30 minutes. Exercise at the same time of the day, if you can. If time is a problem, even 10 minutes of exercise, 2 or 3 times a day can be good for you.

Remember – Safety first -

  • Wear shoes that fit. Thick socks can prevent blisters.
  • Start to exercise slowly. Slow walking or slow running may be helpful before and after exercise.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.
  • People on insulin should discuss when to exercise after a meal with their doctor.
  • Stop exercising if you feel like fainting, having chest pain, or short of breath. Talk to your doctor about these problems before you exercise again.

Blood sugar and exercise –

  • People who take insulin or pills to lower blood sugar can have low blood sugar when exercising.
  • If you take insulin or a pill you should test your blood sugar before you exercise. Eat a fast acting sugar snack if your sugar is less than 100. Eat a snack if you are exercising for more than 45 minutes.
  • If you take insulin, don’t inject it into the same body area you will use when you exercise.
  • Check your blood sugar before and after exercising.

Exercise checklist for people with diabetes

  • Talk to Lifespan doctor about the right exercise for you.
  • Check your blood sugar level before and after exercising.
  • Check your feet for blisters or sores before and after exercising.
  • Wear proper shoes and socks.
  • Drink plenty of fluid before, during and after exercising.
  • Warm up before exercising and cool down afterward.
  • Have at least 15 grams of a fast-acting carbohydrate like toffees or glucose tablets handy in case your blood sugar level drops too low.