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Managing Diabetes with Exercise

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Managing Diabetes with Exercise

Darlene Jameson, MPH, RD, LDN, CDCES

Exercise is one of the best ways to help manage diabetes and keep blood glucose (sugar) in the target range. And many people say they feel better when they get regular exercise.

What exercise can do for you
If you have diabetes, regular activity can make you feel better, help lower your blood sugars and help prevent complications. Research has shown that exercise offers a long list of health benefits. It can:

  • Reduce your risk for stroke and heart disease
  • Lower your blood pressure and blood glucose
  • Help your body use insulin more effectively
  • Raise your good and lower your bad cholesterol
  • Lift your mood and increase energy levels

You can be active
If you haven’t been active, talk to your health care team before you begin. Start out slowly and carefully. Try adding more movement to your daily routine. Every little bit helps. Consider:

  • Parking your car farther from the store
  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Gardening
  • Taking a walk with family, friends, or your pet
  • Dancing

As you get stronger and can do more, add a few extra minutes to your physical activity. If you have pain, stop your activity until the pain goes away. If it returns, call your health care provider right away.

It is ideal to do some type of physical activity daily and to include a variety of types. Aerobic exercises like swimming, bicycling, skating and basketball work your large muscles, raise your heart rate, increase your breathing capacity and are especially beneficial to lower blood sugars. Doing them continuously for at least 30 minutes at least three days per week is recommended. A total of at least 150 minutes weekly is ideal.

Exercises to increase strength, balance and flexibility are good for not only diabetes health but also help to prevent falls and injuries. Resistance exercises like weights, stretch bands, and push-ups can help strengthen and build muscle. Include them at least two non-consecutive days per week for at least 30 minutes per session. Tai Chi, weight-shifting exercises like dance and yoga, and stretching improve balance, flexibility and range of motion and help prevent soreness. Do these at least 2-3 days per week and daily if you can.

Cautions about exercise and diabetes
If you have diabetes and poorly controlled blood pressure or eye problems, talk with your health care provider before doing intense exercise or anything with heavy weights. If diabetes has caused nerve damage in your feet, be cautious doing pounding activities. To protect your feet, wear cotton socks and well-fitted, comfortable, athletic shoes. After exercise, be sure to look closely at your feet for signs of irritation, broken skin, blisters, or other injuries.

Check your blood sugar before you exercise. If it is above 250, check your urine for ketones. If positive, hold off exercising until they are absent. If negative, exercise with caution and make sure you drink at least 8 ounces of water at least 30 minutes before you start.

If your blood sugar is below 100, eat a 15 to 30 -gram carbohydrate snack such as fruit or a granola bar first to help prevent hypoglycemia. Carry a sugar source like gummy candies or glucose tablets while exercising in case you start to feel shaky, dizzy or sweaty. After exercise, pay more attention to blood sugar levels since low blood sugar is possible even four to eight hours after activity, especially if you take insulin.

Have fun!

It is important to choose exercises that you find rewarding. If you're having fun doing physical activities you really enjoy, you'll be more likely to exercise each day. Feel free to explore your options – there’s a whole world of exercises to try out, so give a variety of exercises a shot until you find the ones that best suit you!

*Darlene Jameson, MPH, RD, LDN, CDCES is the Diabetes Education Coordinator at Atlantic General Hospital. Atlantic General Diabetes Services holds a Diabetes Support Group on the first Wednesday of every month starting at 3:30 p.m. at the Ocean Pines library. The group provides discussion, education, and a speaker on the topic of diabetes. Contact Darlene Jameson at 410-208-9761 or for more information.