To fully cover the benefits of exercise for diabetics would require me to write a book, rather than an article…but I’m giving it a shot because it matters. YOU matter. To me.
Whether you’ve been active in the past or not, you can start now, right where you are. If you have never been active or have not been active for a long while, however, it’s important to start slowly.
To reap all the benefits of exercise for diabetics, light activities like walking are fine for most people.
If you feel unsure about your health, talk to your physician before doing anything more demanding than walking. Ask for advice on which activities are the safest for you.
Your doctor’s advice will depend on the condition of your heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, feet, and nervous system. However, many people with diabetes can do the same activities as someone without it.
To begin getting more active, start safely with these 14 tips.
1. Wear a medical identification bracelet, necklace, or a medical ID tag that identifies you as someone with diabetes in case of emergency, and carry a cell phone with you in case you need to call someone for assistance.
2. Protect Your Feet
Since diabetes makes foot problems more likely, show your feet some TLC.
- Check inside your shoes before wearing them.
- Your shoes should fit well and have plenty of toe room.
- Wear good quality, supportive shoes with silica gel or air mid-soles.
➡ These are good choices for weight-bearing activities like walking, because they’re built to reduce stress on your feet and joints.
➡ They will also lower your chances of foot injuries, especially if you have diabetic nerve damage or circulation problems.
Socks that are made out of a material that reduces friction and pulls moisture away from your skin can also help protect your feet. Some examples are CoolMax, polypropylene, or acrylic (cotton causes more friction and increases the risk of blisters and/or sores).
- Check your feet for blisters, cuts, bumps, redness, or sores every single day, even if you didn’t work out that day.
- Talk to your doctor if you have a foot injury or a non-healing blister, cut, or sore.
3. To reap the benefits of exercise for diabetics Avoid doing activity in extremely hot or cold temperatures. Choose indoor options when the weather is extreme.
- If you feel your blood sugar dropping, be ready to test for it and treat it.
- Always carry a source of carbohydrate with you so you’ll be ready to treat low blood glucose. This is especially important if you are on insulin and have Type 1 Diabetes.
- As you increase the length of time and intensity of your workouts, you may want to have a sports drink with you that provides carbohydrates.
BUT: Be careful to check the nutrition labels. You may need to water down the drink so that you don’t have too much, which can cause your blood glucose to spike.
5. Your warm up or cool down should be a lower intensity than the rest of your time exercising. This helps get your blood flowing and warms up your joints.
6. Start slowly
- Warm up for 5 minutes before starting to exercise and cool down for 5 minutes after. This is the most important part of any workout, for anybody, so don’t skip it.
7. The benefits of exercise for diabetics start with Knowing How Much Exercise You Need
- Aim for about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day, 5 days a week.
- A 15-minute walk twice a day is a good way to start. You can make your workouts longer and a little more demanding over time.
You’ve got a lot of options:
- Swim laps
- Dance around your dining room like no one’s watching
- Shoot hoops
- Take a walk or easy hike.
Choose something that makes your heart beat faster but that doesn’t push you to your limits.
- If you have Type 2 diabetes, aim for two sessions a week and work all your major muscle groups (arms, legs, shoulders, back, abs, and gluteal muscles (“glutes”). Activities should be energizing but not overly difficult.
8. Use the “talk test” to make sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard. If you become short of breath and you can’t talk, slow down.
This is most important when you’re just starting to increase the activity in your routine. As you become fit, you’ll be able to exercise at a higher intensity and chat with others while you do it.
9. Stop doing an activity if you feel any pain, shortness of breath, or light-headedness. Talk to your doctor if you experience any unusual symptoms.
10. Think beyond your workout:
- Ask yourself how you can be more active all day long
- Take your dog for an extra walk
- Wash your car by hand
- Use stairs instead of elevators
- Walk instead of drive
- Lift light weights (like hand weights) during commercials or between shows while you’re watching TV.
- Text a friend and ask him or her to join you. The time really does go faster when you have good company and someone to cheer you on!
- Listen to your favorite music while you walk. At any speed, you’ll soon forget you’re walking and get into the music. This is a tool most committed athletes use, and it works!
11. Watch Your Blood Sugar.
- Choose your Workout snacks wisely
- Exercise can affect your blood sugar levels right away and they can last over a longer time.
- If you take insulin or medications that lower blood sugar levels, test yours 30 minutes before you work out and then every 30 minutes as you exercise to make sure your numbers stay stable.
- On the days you plan to exercise, don’t inject your insulin shots into your arms or legs — use another injection spot.
- Avoid working out when the insulin is in its peak action time. Talk to your doctor about your peak time, because it varies.
If your blood sugar is:
➡ Lower than 100 mg/dL: Have a snack with carbs, like fruit or crackers.
➡ 250 mg/dL or higher: Test for ketones (the compounds your body makes when it doesn’t have enough insulin).
Being active when ketones are high can make you ill.
➡ 300 mg/dL: Wait to exercise until your blood sugar drops.
➡ You feel shaky, anxious, weak, or confused.
➡ You sweat more than usual.
➡ Your heart is racing.
➡ You have a headache.
These could be signs that your sugar is dropping or is low, and they can happen during exercise or several hours after.
13. Have a Drink and a Snack
Workouts can lower your blood sugar. So:
➡ If you have Type 1 diabetes, eat a light snack 1 to 3 hours (depending on the type of insulin you use) before a workout.
➡ Keep items such as three to five glucose tabs, a small carton of fruit juice, or 2 tablespoons of raisins with you to quickly raise your blood sugar if needed.
➡ If you wear an insulin pump, ask your doctor for tips on wearing it during your workout.
➡ If you use injected or inhaled short or rapid-acting insulin on a sliding scale, talk with your doctor about lowering doses before exercise.
14. Focus on Fun
- Balancing the food you eat with exercise and medicine (if prescribed) will help you control your weight and can keep your blood glucose in the healthy range.
This can help prevent or delay complications. Many people with diabetes live long and healthful lives and you can too.
Need more help?
- Center for Information: (1-800-DIABETES)
Representatives at the Center for Information are your personal guides to information on diabetes, as well as to the American Diabetes Association.
At the core of providing this excellent service are highly-trained, dedicated personnel, who answer your non-medical questions in English or Spanish. In addition, a language interpreter service is available for any language.
- Hours of Operation: Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET.
- For diabetes-related questions or to request a diabetes information packet, email them at: email@example.com.
- For Spanish-language assistance, email them at Preguntas@diabetes.org.