Exercise can make a real difference for people who have diabetes. Exercise can help control your weight and lower your blood sugar level. It also lowers your risk of heart disease. Heart disease is a condition that is common in people who have diabetes. Exercise can also help you feel better about yourself and improve your overall health.
Path to improved health
Talk to your doctor about what kind of exercise is right for you. The type of exercise you can do will mainly depend on whether you have any other health problems. Most doctors recommend aerobic exercise. This type of exercise makes you breathe deeply and makes your heart work harder. Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, jogging, aerobic dance, or bicycling. If you have problems with the nerves in your feet or legs, you may need to choose other exercises. Your doctor may want you to do a type of exercise that won’t put too much stress on your feet. These exercises include swimming, bicycling, rowing, or chair exercises.
No matter what kind of exercise you do, you should warm up before you start and cool down when you’re done. To warm up, spend 5 to 10 minutes doing a low-intensity exercise such as walking. Then gently stretch for another 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat these steps after exercising to cool down.
When you start an exercise program, go slowly. Gradually increase the intensity and length of your workout as you get more fit. Talk to your doctor for specific advice.
Should I drink more fluids during exercise?
Yes. When you’re exercising, your body uses more fluid to keep you cool. By the time you feel thirsty, you may already be getting dehydrated. Dehydration (not enough fluid in your body) can affect your blood sugar level. Drink plenty of fluid before, during, and after exercise. Make sure you are drinking water or sugar-free drinks so you aren’t raising your sugar levels.
Exercise checklist for people who have diabetes
- Talk to your doctor about the right exercise for you.
- Check your blood sugar level before and after exercising.
- Check your feet for blisters or sores before and after exercising.
- Wear the proper shoes and socks.
- Drink plenty of fluid before, during, and after exercising.
- Warm up before exercising and cool down afterward.
- Have a snack handy in case your blood sugar level drops too low.
Things to consider
There are risks to exercising for people who have diabetes, but the benefits far outweigh the risks. Exercise changes the way your body reacts to insulin. Regular exercise makes your body more sensitive to insulin. This could cause your blood sugar level to get too low (called hypoglycemia) after exercising.
Your doctor may tell you to check your blood sugar level before and after exercising. There are two ways you can monitor your blood sugar level each day. It can be done through a blood glucose monitor or a continuous glucose monitoring system. Talk with your doctor about which method is best for you.
If your blood sugar level is too low or too high just before you plan to exercise, wait. It’s better to wait until the level improves. Also, be sure to watch your blood sugar level if you exercise in really hot or cold conditions. Temperature changes how your body absorbs insulin.
When to see a doctor
Your blood sugar may be normal when you begin exercising but quickly drop during your workout. Be sensitive to this. Hypoglycemia usually occurs gradually, so you need to pay attention to how you’re feeling during exercise. If you have any of these symptoms, stop exercising:
- A significant change in your heartbeat that doesn’t feel right
- If it feels like your heart is skipping a beat or beating irregularly
- If you feel shaky or anxious
- If you suddenly begin to sweat more than normal
Follow your doctor’s advice about how to treat hypoglycemia. If you begin to feel worse, call your doctor immediately.
Questions for your doctor
- Am I healthy enough to begin an exercise program?
- What kinds of exercises should I do?
- Are there any exercises I should avoid?
- Do I have any other health conditions that would affect my ability to exercise?
- Am I taking any medication that would interfere with exercise?
- How does exercise affect my blood glucose?
- How does exercise affect my diabetes?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.