Diabetes and Exercise
Being Active Can Help Keep Your Diabetes Under Control.
Regular physical activity is an important part of diabetes management. We tell you why and offer up a few good fitness activities you may want to try.
If you’re among the more than 34 million Americans living with diabetes and already have a doctor-approved physical activity regimen in place - congratulations. You know how much of an advantage being active is when it comes to controlling your diabetes.
However, if you have been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes and have not yet begun an exercise or activity plan, it’s time to start moving. The fact is physical activity and exercise programs can play a dramatic role in your overall health and in helping you gain better control over your blood glucose management.
Let us start by distinguishing the difference between physical activity and exercise as defined by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Physical activity is defined as any motion or movement that increases the body’s use of energy, while exercise is defined as “planned and structured” physical activity. In other words, a regimented workout routine.
We’re noting the difference here because both can be immensely beneficial to your diabetes care plan. You don’t need to follow a stringent and unforgiving workout program to see real benefits when it comes to managing your diabetes. You can get real results with moderate and even mild activity.
Getting started on a diabetes activity program
Sometimes the hardest part is taking that first step. It can be a little intimidating to begin an exercise or activity routine, particularly, if you’ve been inactive for a long period of time. However, you need to remember that it doesn’t matter where you are in your physical conditioning. It is okay if you have never participated in a triathlon for crying out loud. This is about being active to better manage your diabetes in order to live a healthier, and perhaps, even longer life. Look at it this way. There is no plan B. Physical activity is a must-do if you want to live your best life with diabetes.
So, how do you get started? First things first, it’s always important to discuss any physical activity with your diabetes physician and care team before beginning a program. That being said, if you are new to fitness, the prevailing rule is to take it slow.
Start with some light walking. An easy-going stroll over relatively flat terrain is a safe bet for most people with diabetes, and it’s probably the best way to take that difficult first step. Even just getting up and walking for 10 minutes is a good start. Maybe you can walk for 10 minutes a few times each day, or maybe one walk is all you can handle right now. That’s perfectly fine. You took the first step and that is a major move in the right direction.
Along with physical activity and exercise, a proper diabetes plan means always having the right diabetic supplies on hand. At diabeticwarehouse.org, we’re committed to providing you with a wide selection of glucose test strips, insulin syringes, pen needles, glucose meters and diabetic starter kits from leading manufacturers, including FreeStyle, One Touch, Accu-Chek, Contour Next, BD Ultra Fine, Medtronic and more.
Work your way up to 150 minutes a week.
According to the ADA, the magic number for physical activity is 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week. The goal is to get past that slow stroll and work your way up to a decent sweat. Once again, this does not have to happen overnight. In fact, it’s not supposed to happen overnight. If you’re not in the best shape of your life right now, there’s no rush. Make working up to 150 minutes of activity a gradual process that you do it in cooperation with your diabetes physician and care team recommendations.
If you are in relatively good shape but 150 minutes still sounds like a pretty daunting number. Look at it this way - it’s just 2.5 hours of moderate activity each week. You might do 30 minutes five times a week, or 50 minutes three times a week. The point is, feel free to spread it out. You can also do a number of shorter sessions each day. For example, three 10-minute sessions on the stationary bike in one day add up to that 30 minutes you were targeting.
Remember, the goal is 150 minutes of moderate activity. Everybody gets there at a different pace and how long or short it takes you really isn’t important. What does matter is that you continue to progress. Eventually, you will get there.
Why is exercise so important to managing your diabetes?
Exercise is a good thing - diabetes or no diabetes. It helps control weight, lower blood pressure, lower harmful LDL cholesterol, strengthen muscles and bones, reduce anxiety, and improve overall wellbeing. Who doesn’t want that, right?
But for people living with diabetes, regular activity has also been proven to lower blood glucose levels and boost the body’s sensitivity to insulin. This can make managing your blood sugar levels much easier and even reduce the amount of insulin you need to administer each day.
The ADA cites the Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) trial, which was the largest randomized trial evaluating a lifestyle intervention in adults with Type 2 diabetes. It shows that aerobic exercise clearly improves glycemic control in those with Type 2 diabetes, particularly when the target of 150 minutes of physical activity is undertaken. What’s more, the study indicates that aerobic exercise combined with some form of resistance training (free weights, gym machines) further enhances glycemic control and lowers A1C numbers (which measure blood sugar levels over a prolonged period of time).
As a diabetic, there’s no doubt that activity level plays an important role in determining your blood sugar levels and, therefore, your insulin needs. Live a sedentary life and you’re likely to become more reliant on insulin injections. Add a little activity and you very well may lower your mediation needs.
When to Exercise
As someone living with diabetes, you will have to take a little more care in planning your exercise regimen. Generally, the best time to do any physical activity is one to three hours after eating, when your blood sugar levels are likely to be a little higher. The physical activity will then lower your blood glucose back to target levels.
If your diabetes plan includes insulin treatments, it’s important to test your insulin level before exercising. Should you test below 100mg/dL, eat a piece of fruit, or grab a small snack to boost it in order to avoid hypoglycemia. After your snack, wait 30 minutes and test again to see if your blood glucose level has stabilized before engaging in physical activity.
It’s also a good idea to break out those diabetic test strips after a more intense level of activity. You will be prone to low blood sugar levels for 6-12 hours following a strong workout, so test your glucose levels to makes sure everything is in order.
Another trick of the trade is to keep some hard candy or glucose tablets at the ready while doing rigorous physical activity. Should your blood sugar level suddenly drop uncomfortably low, you can quickly elevate it to a safer level.
Even if you’re active and in great shape, insulin management is not something to take lightly. To help you stick to your diabetes treatment plan, you’ll find great prices on glucose test strips, glucose meters, insulin syringes and pen needles at diabeticwarehouse.org.
Seven healthy and fun exercises to help control your diabetes
Once again, a lot of these depend on where you are in your fitness program - just getting start or ready to take it to the next level. One key that definitely makes it easier to adhere to a routine, however, is to make being active fun.
Don’t force yourself into an activity that feels like a chore. Choose something that you look forward to doing more days than not. Rest assured, there will be times when you just aren’t feeling up to working out, but those days are fewer and farther between when you’re doing something you enjoy.
You don’t need any equipment. You don’t need any special training. You just need to get up and go for a walk. Make it a brisk one for 30 minutes five days a week and you’ve hit your 150-minute mark! Walking is a great choice for those just starting their fitness routines.
Because about 50% of people with Type 2 diabetes also suffer from arthritis, high-impact activities can be damaging. Hopping on a bike, however, is low-impact and a great workout. Whether it’s a stationary bike indoors or a cruise around the neighborhood, cycling just might be the choice for you.
Another low impact workout, swimming delivers both excellent aerobic and resistance training benefits. It’s great for the heart, lungs and strengthens an abundance of muscle groups. Chances are a gym or club near you offers an indoor lap pool, which makes it easy to enjoy this workout year-round.
Finding it hard to get motivated on your own? Maybe a team sport is the answer. Double’s tennis, pickleball, softball, basketball, flag football are all great activities made a lot more fun because you’re doing them with friends.
Most gyms offer a wide variety of aerobic classes that incorporate upbeat music and choreographed dance moves into a healthy workout. Contact your local facility to see what’s available in your area.
Pilates is a popular fitness program that’s designed to increase core strength and improve balance. It may also help control blood sugar levels, according to a study by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Yoga not only strengthens the body’s core muscle groups. This mind and body practice has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and is believed to improve sleep quality, improve blood pressure, and reduce cholesterol. Yoga classes are led by certified instructors and there is almost certainly a studio or gym near you. First-timer or seasoned student, Yoga is a great option for those with diabetes.
Physical activity is a sure-fire way to improve how you live with diabetes. Paired with a diabetes healthy diet, which includes eating fresh vegetables and proteins, and limiting sweets and processed foods, physical activity can help you gain greater control over your blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of diabetes related complications, including cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
If you’ve already started a fitness program, keep it up. Maybe you’ll even get a few new ideas from this post. If you’re still waffling and haven’t started, it’s not too late. It’s never too late. Ask your diabetes physician and care team for assistance. They’ll help you put together a reasonable program that you can start safely and confidently. Once you get started, who knows? You just might find there’s no stopping you.
If you’re currently living with diabetes, we invite you to explore our complete selection of insulin testing and diabetes treatment products available online at Diabetic Warehouse.
Diabetic Warehouse is a trusted supplier of diabetes care products and accessories. For more information and to explore a complete range of products, including test strips, syringes and needles, glucose monitoring systems, and more, visit www.diabeticwarehouse.org.