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Defeat Diabetes
150 153rd Ave,
Suite 300

Madeira Beach, FL 33708

Exercise and Diabetes: Let's Get Started!

Exercise is good for everyone. But it can be especially good for you if you have diabetes. When you exercise, you will feel "charged-up", both physically and emotionally. It will improve your overall health. And, it plays a key role in controlling your blood sugar.

For most people exercise is a dirty word. It brings up thoughts of gym class, climbing that awful rope, getting creamed at dodge ball, locker rooms, horrible shower facilities and of course showing the world how inept at sports we are. Bad memories. So how do we turn that around? First of all don’t think of it as exercise, think of it as physical activity and with the idea of being more fit.

Being physically active is an important tool in managing your diabetes. It can be just as helpful as proper meal planning and diabetes medicine (if your doctor has put you on diabetes pills or insulin). Most people with diabetes who are active regularly require less medication because physical activity lowers their blood sugar. The effect of physical activity on blood sugar can last from 12 to 72 hours.

Talk with your health care team about the kind of exercise you would like to do. If you need more help in planning a healthy exercise program, you may want to talk to an exercise physiologist, if one is available (an exercise physiologist is an expert at prescribing personalized exercise programs).

Since any increase in physical activity can lower your blood sugar, you may need to change your meal plan or your medication. Again, talk with your doctor or diabetes educator about making changes.

Some facts about exercise and the diabetic: To benefit the most from exercise, you should plan on exercising at least 5 to 6 times a week for at least 45 to 60 minutes each session. But don't be discouraged if that seems unattainable. Even 20 to 30 minutes 3 to 4 days a week provides a good benefit.

Regular Exercise may help you: (Your body and your diabetes attain the following benefits)

• Blood sugar checks are most important. A blood sugar of 240 or greater could signify an insulin insufficiency or too much food intake. Insulin-requiring diabetics should check for ketones. If blood sugar is below 120, a snack of anywhere from 15--30 grams of carbohydrate is needed to raise the blood sugar level.
• Exercising in extreme hot or cold weather should be avoided as this can cause blood sugar fluctuations.
• Keeping some type of diabetes medication handy at all times with the medication dosage listed.
• Checking feet daily for blisters can help avoid foot ulcers.
• Wearing white cotton socks and supporting shoes that fit properly.
• Carrying glucose tablets or another quick energy source to elevate blood sugar levels if needed.
• Drinking water before, during, and after exercise.
• For endurance or more intensive activities, some protein and fat may be needed. Type I diabetics need to be especially observant of these guidelines.
• Exercise 30--90 minutes after a meal, when blood sugar is at its peak, will generally satisfy any need for snacking and will guard against hypoglycemic reactions.

Exercise - Weight - insulin - Reducing Risk Factors

Exercise has many benefits, and for someone with diabetes regular exercise combined with a good diet can help control diabetes. Exercise not only burns calories, which can help with weight reduction, but it also can improve the body's response to the hormone insulin. As a result, following a regular exercise program can make oral diabetes medications and insulin more effective and can help control blood glucose levels.

Exercise also reduces some risk factors for heart disease. For example, exercise can lower fat and cholesterol levels in bloods which increase heart disease risk. It also can lower blood pressure and increase production of a cholesterol, called HDL, that protects against heart disease. 

However, infrequent, strenuous exercise can strain muscles and the circulatory system and can increase the risk of a heart attack during exercise. A doctor can decide how much exercise is safe for an individual. The doctor will consider how well controlled a person's diabetes is, the condition of the heart and circulatory system, and whether complications require that the person avoid certain types of activity.

The purpose of a good exercise program is to find an enjoyable activity and do it regularly. Doing strenuous exercise for a few weeks or months months and then stopping isn't as effective as maintaining a lower level of activity for a lifetime.

People taking oral drugs or insulin need to remember that strenuous exercise can cause dangerously low blood glucose and they should carry a food or drink high in sugar for medical emergencies.

Signs of hypoglycemia include hunger, nervousness, shakiness, weakness, sweating, headache, and blurred vision. As a precaution, a person with diabetes should wear an identification bracelet or necklace to alert a stranger that the wearer has diabetes and may need special medical help in an emergency.

A doctor may advise someone with high blood pressure or other complications to avoid exercises that raise blood pressure. For example, lifting heavy objects and exercises that strain the upper body raise blood pressure.

People with diabetes who have lost sensitivity in their feet also can enjoy exercise. They should choose shoes carefully and check their feet regularly for breaks in skin that could lead to infection. Swimming or bicycling can be easier on the feet than running.

NIH Publication No. 97-241 September 1992

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Defeat Diabetes Foundation
150 153rd Ave, Suite 300
Madeira Beach, FL 33708


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