Diabetes Exercise

Develop an Exercise Plan

(Note: Consult your doctor before you begin to determine what type of exercise program is best for you.)

Your food and exercise selections for managing your diabetes should reflect your individual needs and preferences. You can choose from a variety of exercises, such as aerobics, strength training, and flexibility.

Aim for a goal of exercising five days a week for at least 30 minutes, either in one continuous session or in short spurts throughout the day. This routine can make a tangible difference in your disease as well as how you look and feel. You might find it helpful to work with an exercise physiologist who will design a program for you.

  • Pick activities you enjoy. Think of physical activities that you like to do and can stick with over time. You don't need to spend money on special equipment or join a fancy health club. Just get out and walk! If you have been inactive, walking makes a good choice. Start with three 10-minute walks a week and increase the length and frequency of your walks over time. Or try biking or swimming. Consider a variety of activities (both indoor and outdoor) that you can do in both good and bad weather.
  • Find ways to stay motivated and make exercise more rewarding. You might want to exercise with a partner or join an exercise group or gym. Many gyms offer classes geared to beginners. Some organizations offer exercise support groups; for example, the American Diabetes Association offers an online walking support group and step tracker, Club Ped.
  • Try using a pedometer (a simple inexpensive device that clips on your clothes) to measure your steps and chart your progress. America on the Move, a fitness advocacy group, recommends 10,000 steps or five miles a day of total walking. You can measure the number of steps you take in an average week and keep increasing your steps until you reach a number that's right for you. In general, follow the 10 percent rule: increase your workout by only 10 percent per week. That means if you walk one mile one week, walk an additional 1/10 mile the next.
  • Be consistent: as a homeostatic "machine," your body adapts to your everyday routine. So the more inactive you become, the more your body wants to stay put. Once you get more active, your body adjusts and craves activity. You reap the rewards by feeling more energetic when you exercise, which provides the drive to keep moving!

Exercise - Getting Started

If you have not exercised in a long time, you can start by slowly adding physical activity to your daily routine. Talk with your health provider before starting any exercise program. You might need a stress test and other tests before beginning. Your exercise choices will depend on the condition of your heart, blood vessels, eyes, feet, kidneys, and nervous system. Pick a convenient time and place for your exercise, and when you are ready to get moving, do not worry about your weight. Remember that you will gain muscle and lose fat, and muscle weighs more than fat. If you check your measurements with a tape measure every so often, you will see that you are toning up.

Keeping Your Diabetic Child Active

Exercise

Physical activity not only benefits your child's overall health, it also helps the body use insulin and lowers blood glucose. It also helps keep weight down, which is critical in controlling diabetes and preventing complications.

You can help your child stay active by making physical activity a part of your entire family's routine. Find activities you all enjoy - whether it's walking, swimming, hiking, volleyball or jogging. Enroll your child in an after-school exercise program or another organization such as the YMCA that offers a fitness program. If your child leads an inactive life, start by making small changes, such as taking short walks or using stairs instead of elevators.

Exercising Safely

Exercise, for a child with diabetes, means your child must take some special precautions:

  • Check blood glucose before beginning to exercise.
    If it is less than 100 mg/dl, eat a snack and wait until it goes up.
    If it is more than 250 mg/dl, check for ketones; if they are moderate or high, don't exercise.
  • Bring a snack and a bottle of water - people with diabetes must stay well-hydrated.
  • If your child plays competitive sports, inform the coach or leader about his or her condition.
  • Give your child an ID bracelet or necklace to wear.
  • Watch for signs of hypoglycemia. Your child should take 2 to 3 glucose tablets or 1/2 cup of juice or 1/2 serving of a regular soda at the first sign of symptoms: tiredness, weakness, and dizziness.
  • After exercise, check the child's blood glucose several times over the next few hours.

The Importance of Weight Management and Exercise

Losing weight and keeping it off presents a difficult challenge for many people. But weight management and exercise play a particularly important role in the health of people with diabetes. Exercise benefits blood glucose levels by helping to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes and improves glycemic control. If you already have type 2 diabetes, regular exercise can help you improve your body's ability to use insulin and lose weight and keep it off. If you are overweight, losing weight can also help you control your diabetes*. In fact, some people with type 2 diabetes can manage their blood glucose levels with diet alone once they lose weight.

Research has proven that the best way to maintain weight loss is through continued exercise and physical activity. Losing weight improves your risk factors for cardiovascular disease by lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol. Even a moderate 5- 10 percent loss of body weight can help. To design healthy eating strategies and get help with meal planning, talk with a dietitian.

*Pregnant women should discuss their optimal weight with their diabetes healthcare provider.

Why Exercise?

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), people who have diabetes are more likely to be overweight and have high blood pressure and high cholesterol compared to other people. These health problems can lead to serious complications like hardening of the arteries and other cardiovascular diseases.

Developing diabetes provides powerful motivation to adapt your lifestyle for the better and discover the pleasures of physical activity and good health. The key to a healthy lifestyle stems from staying active, which provides major benefits in controlling diabetes:

  • Lowers blood glucose - activity improves the body's response to insulin and also burns glucose
  • Helps reduce and in some cases eliminate the need for diabetes medication by lowering blood glucose levels
  • Helps you lose weight, tone muscles, and improves fitness levels
  • Strengthens the heart and circulatory system
  • Reduces the risk of developing other health problems such as heart disease, stroke, bone loss, and possibly even some cancers
  • Improves blood lipoprotein and lipids-raises good (HDL) cholesterol and lowers plasma triglyceride concentration

Exercise Safely

Warm up before exercising and cool down afterwards to prevent injury. For the first five minutes, start slowly so your muscles can warm up. Conclude with a few simple stretches to relieve tightness and improve flexibility.

Healthcare professionals also advise people with diabetes to take the following precautions:

  • Wear a diabetes I.D. bracelet or tag
  • Wear athletic shoes and socks that fit well to protect feet and prevent injury
  • Check your blood glucose before exercise. If it measures too low (less than 80 mg/dl), eat a light snack, such as a fruit or yogurt. If it measures too high, speak with your physician first.
  • Recheck your blood glucose after exercising to see how your body reacts to activity
  • Bring a snack if you plan to stay active for a few hours

Getting Stronger

You can strengthen your cardiovascular system and muscle tone with more strenuous aerobic and weight-training exercise. You can choose from a variety of exercises. Walk at a brisk pace (15 minutes per mile), jog, dance, cycle, play a sport such as tennis, or take aerobics classes. Develop your muscles by carrying hand weights when you walk or run, doing Pilates or yoga, or using weight machines or free weights.

Staying in Shape for Life

Staying fit means making activity a regular part of your routine and then sticking to it. Exercise does not provide a temporary quick fix, but it's critical for people with diabetes. Once you feel the benefits of exercise and see the difference it makes in your diabetes and overall health, you'll want to stay active.

Additional Topics