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Exercising with diabetes

Exercising with diabetes

Do you have diabetes and want to exercise? In this post I’ll discuss the importance of exercise, types of suitable exercise and a few tips and further advice to help you with starting or even continuing an exercise plan when being a diabetic.

This article will mainly apply to those who suffer from Type 2 diabetes, I will however still cover types of exercise for those who have Type 1 diabetes, but those that do suffer from Type 1 diabetes and other types of diabetes would need to ensure all appropriate and relevant precautions are taken to manage your diet and monitor your blood sugar levels at all times. This is still true for those with Type 2 diabetes, but it is generally easier to do so. Regardless it is important for you to seek medical advice before starting an exercise plan to ensure you are fit and well enough to do so.

Why exercise is important when you have diabetes?

Exercise is important for general health and can help you lose fat, increase your cardio fitness, increase muscle mass and strength.

Exercise can delay or prevent you getting diabetes and for those that already have it, can help in its control and even treat the affects of diabetes. Those with diabetes can also reduce the chances of suffering from further health issues that can follow from having diabetes, such as damage to your nerves, kidneys, eyes and arteries that can affect your heart, leading to heart disease and more.

One of the reasons many people suffer from diabetes is due to excess body weight and to make matters worse being diabetic increases your chance of being overweight/obese if you are not already.

As mentioned, exercise can help reduce body weight and when it comes to resistance training can help further reduce body fat and add muscle tissue. Resistance training when combined with aerobic training and a good nutritional plan has been shown to greatly increase the benefits of controlling blood sugar levels, reduce blood sugar spikes and insulin sensitivity and resistance, making it more effective.

Building muscle also helps use more glucose in your blood while training and having more muscle also helps use more glucose due to glucose being a major energy source for your muscles.

Despite this, it is an unfortunate truth that many people who are diabetic or pre diabetic do not get enough exercise or even does any at all and while medication can help control your blood glucose levels, exercise and your diet can make it easier and in many cases can actually negate the need for any medication at all.

It is however important to note that although it is good for short term help and even better for long term health, it does require dedication to a lifestyle change as it will need to be done on a regular basis to fully benefit from it.

Here is a list of exercises most suitable for those with diabetes:

Walking – no equipment needed and can be done anytime. Go for a walk every other day and reap the benefits of increased cardio activity, around 30 minutes should be good for most people. As you get fitter you could possibly work up to a jogging pace. Also try taking the stairs more often.

Tai chi – this is a gentle slow paced exercise that can help reduce stress, get the body in motion and create balance. Ideal for those unable to get straight into a more energetic exercise/sport. Do as often as you like.

Resistance training – helps build muscle which also helps regulate blood sugar. Use free weights, weight machines, bodyweight exercises, resistance bands etc. To benefit from resistance training, perform a workout 2-3 times per week. If lifting weights, do 5-8 difference exercises to hit all major body parts and stick to 3-4 sets in the 8-15 rep range.

Play with the kids – get out in the garden. Kick a ball around, try pole/swing ball tennis etc

Dancing – Many types to choose from. Can be fun, but do choose one that is suitable for your current fitness levels and on the lower impact side.

Yoga/pilates – good for controlling insulin resistance and for nerve function. Helps reduce stress and so can help to control blood sugar levels. Do as often as you like.

Swimming  – a good aerobic exercise with variable intensity, but importantly, is easy on the joints. Do as often as you like.

Bike riding – a great aerobic exercise that gets your blood flowing and can give your cardio system a real workout, as well as being a great fat burner. Again, it is generally easy on the joints. Can be done every other day. Go for a bike ride outside for a great variable workout or use a stationary bike for the same effect or for a more consistent intensity workout.

Sports – try a slower paced sport such as golf, badminton, may be tennis if fit enough. I would mostly stick to a sport that can easily be done at your own pace and that you can stop easily. Some team sports can see you working too hard and unable to just sit down for a rest if needed, so be careful with these types of sports.

Others – once you have increased your fitness level and overall general health, more intense types of physical exercise can be included.

How to exercise when you have diabetes

Monitor your blood sugar levels

It is important to do the right kind of exercise and intensity and duration to manage your blood sugar levels. With too much insulin before exercising you may suffer from hypoglycemia which makes you anxious, shaky, sweaty, nauseous, dizzy, hungry and more. This can occur if you have taken too much blood sugar lowering medication and/or not enough carbohydrates.

Having too little insulin produces more glucose making you hyperglycemia and can make you thirsty, lethargic, nauseous, giving you blurry vision and more.

Therefore it is important to monitor your blood sugar before and after you exercise. For some it may also be advisable to check your level during any physical activity, especially if you workout for more than 30 minutes or doing an intense physical exercise.

Monitoring your blood sugar levels will allow you to see how exercise affects you. Is it lowering or even raising your blood sugar level? Also be aware that the food you have eaten, the amount of time between eating and exercising, the amount of sleep you had or even the weather/environment can have an effect on these levels.

Another important thing to do is to take extra care to monitor your blood sugar level for up to 12 hours post workout. Record and take notes so you can get a picture of what is happening, so you can plan ahead next time. For this reason I recommend you exercise a good 10-12 hours before you go to bed.

Be aware that certain diabetic medication may also affect insulin activity and reduce blood sugar levels too much to allow you to safely exercise….seek medical advice. Try to plan ahead to makes sure you are fit and healthy to exercise.

How much exercise?

Look to get 2-3 hours of exercise per week and split it up so you are working out 4-6 days per week. It doesn’t have to be intense exercise. You can mix and choose from a wide variety of exercises as listed above. For those with diabetes it is important to exercise regularly and consistently in order to reap the full benefit that exercise can have on insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels. Generally speaking moderate exercise will be best, as this will cause a slow drop in your blood glucose level. Too much intensity will cause too much of a drop too quickly.

As mentioned you can do all types of exercises, however it is best to do a combination of resistance exercise, moderate aerobic exercise and if fit enough some high intensity exercise on occasion (with strict monitoring). Aim to alternate between resistance training 2-3 times per week and any other exercise 2-3 times per week. Take at least 1-2 days per week off any exercise, although general house chores, gardening etc can be done on those rest days if you are up to it or it’s not too strenuous. Don’t take two days off consecutively, do 2-3 days of mixed exercise and then a day off then repeat.

Be realistic but set goals, take it easy to start with. Going too intense when your body isn’t use to it can cause your blood sugar level to be elevated too quickly. You don’t want to tire yourself out and then give up working out either. Go slow and steady and allow your body to get used to exercising. Eventually your body will get used to working out and using more blood sugar for physical activities and become more efficient, you need to concentrate on helping your diabetic situation not think about becoming the next Olympic athlete.

Warm up and cool down. Do 5-10 minutes of low intensity warming up and cooling down. This helps prepare your body for its workout and allows your body to gradually return to a more normal state post workout, as a sudden stop can often leave you with a drop in blood pressure or pooling of blood. It is best to allow your heart rate to return to a slower pace gradually helping blood flow.

If you have issues with your feet, choose an activity that does not place too much weight on your feet, such as swimming. Us low impact exercise and wear comfortable footwear.

Simply become more active. Don’t just concentrate on exercise, look to generally get up and move around more. Do some house work, DIY or gardening etc.

Further advice on exercise with diabetes:

In no particular order:

Keep a carbohydrate snack/drink nearby or with you, but be careful. As mentioned above, you should monitor your blood sugar level before and after exercise.

It may be beneficial for many with diabetes to become more active after eating to reduce blood glucose levels. If doing something light/moderate, such as a walk, then do this 10-30 minutes after eating. If more moderate/high intensity or resistance training aim for 1- 2 hours after eating.

Carry a medical card or bracelet to let people know of any condition you may have.

Take a mobile phone with you if going out for a jog/run or doing a sport where communication is limited.

Find a training partner who knows what to do if you need help.

Wear comfortable workout clothes and comfortable, but appropriate supportive foot wear.

Stay hydrated. This will help maintain blood glucose levels and allow your body to remove excess blood sugar.

Stop exercising if you feel nauseous or pain or your blood sugar level is low and take in fast acting carbs. Keep monitoring your blood sugar level regularly after.

Join a gym or exercise class and make friends at the same time.

While it’s nice to have a choice of exercise and sports to part take in, make sure you do one that is suitable to how severe your diabetes is and how it affects you. Keep a journal/diary/record of your workouts and how you felt.

Find out from an expert what blood sugar level you need to be at before, during and after exercise and how it affects what physical activity you can do and what medication dose you need.

Time your meals and how much carbohydrates you ingest. The type of training you do and the amount of time after your meal that you train will affect how much and the type you should consume. Consultation with a nutritionist may be beneficial. It may help to speak to a nutritionist who specialises in diabetic diets.

Finally reduce/minimise stress as much as possible, as stress can increase blood glucose levels. This can also include intense exercise and long exercise sessions that place a lot of stress on the body. So make sure you do monitor your workouts and blood sugar level.