Exercise is good for everyone, but for people with diabetes, it can make a big difference in keeping your blood sugar level under control. Not only that, but staying active allows your cells to process insulin more efficiently, improving your overall A1C levels.
The many benefits to staying active
Exercise is one of the cornerstones of managing your diabetes, because the list of benefits for people with diabetes is long. Exercise can:1
- Improve insulin sensitivity for people with type 12
- Decrease the glucose in your blood for people with type 23
- Improve glucose utilization
- Decrease circulating insulin levels, during activity
- Decrease glucose production from the liver
- Lower your cholesterol, blood pressure, and reduce stress
- Improve cardiovascular health, and quality of sleep
- Reduce obesity, joint pain, and coronary artery disease
- Prevent osteoporosis and delays the onset of dementia
- Decrease fatigue and the number of sick days you take from work
- Increase energy, quality of life, and self-esteem
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what type of exercise is right for you, and get moving at least once a day.
Stay safe while you exercise
People with diabetes have a few extra steps to add to their workout routine. Here are a few safety considerations.
You can do the same things as people without diabetes, but you should still talk to your doctor or pharmacist to make sure that you have no limitations. For example, someone with diabetic retinopathy may want to skip a strenuous activity like weightlifting.2
Check your blood sugar levels before, during, and after you exercise. Have some carbs or fast-acting sugar on hand—like a banana, juice or glucose tablets—that you can take if you start to feel your blood sugar dropping. And the next time you talk to your doctor or pharmacist, let them know your test results so they can offer advice on your regimen.
Drink a lot of water while you exercise. If you get dehydrated, your blood sugar levels could drop.
Be ready for an emergency. Wear a medical ID tag that provides information about your medical situation, and make sure you have a way to call someone for help. If you can, it’s always a good idea to have a workout buddy or let someone else know where you are.
Pay special attention to your feet. Make sure your shoes fit well and offer good support. Ideally, wear socks that will wick sweat away from your skin. After your workout, check your feet for any signs of blisters, irritation or cuts. If you have any that aren’t healing, have them checked out by a doctor.
It’s important to get a good workout, but don’t overdo it. If you’re in a lot of pain, out of breath or can’t talk, dial down the intensity to a level you’re comfortable with.
It may sound obvious, but don’t forget to breathe. Holding your breath, which we tend to do if we’re in pain or distress, will only deprive your muscles of the oxygen you need to function at your best.
Exercising at home
If you don’t live near a gorgeous hiking trail, or if you don’t have access to a gym, don’t worry. You can still increase your physical activity at home, and it’s completely free! As you continue to see improved blood sugar test results, you’ll be encouraged to stick to an exercise routine, lengthen it, and even add to it. Here are some moves you can do in the comfort of your own home:
- Stretching is a good way to get your body ready for exercise.
- Simple yoga moves increase flexibility and build strength.
- Make small and large circles with your arms while they are straight out at your sides.
- Calf raises are an easy strength-building and toning exercise for everything from the waist down.
- Run in place for 10 minutes, at your own pace.
1Phillips PJ, Leow S. HbA1C, blood glucose monitoring and insulin therapy. Aust Fam Physician. 2014;43(9):611-615. Available at: https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2014/september/hba1c,-blood-glucose-monitoring-and-insulin-therapy/. Accessed June 30, 2015.
2International Diabetes Federation. Diabetes education modules 2011: clinical monitoring. Available at: http://www.idf.org/education/resources/modules-2011/download. Accessed June 30, 2015.
3Polonsky WH. Diabetes Burnout: What to Do When You Can't Take It Anymore. Alexandria, VA: American Diabetes Association; 1999:15.