As you exercise, your muscles use more glucose, which can help lower the sugar levels in your blood over time. It also helps the insulin in your body work better to regulate blood glucose levels.
Exercising can help keep your weight under control, which is important for people who have diabetes. It’s also good for your cardiovascular health and circulation, and helps lower your blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol while raising your HDL (good) cholesterol.
It doesn’t take an intense workout to get positive results. Anything that gets you moving – from walking, playing with your kids or grandkids, and even housework – can help you keep your diabetes under control. Start slowly if you’re not used to being active. Try 10 minutes of activity at first and then build up to 30 minutes.
Before you start
- Ask your doctor what types of exercise might be good choices for you.
- Find out if you need to adjust your medication before you exercise.
- Be able to recognize the signs of low blood sugar, such as confusion and dizziness.
- Be prepared to treat low blood sugar if necessary. Carry glucose tablets with you so you can raise your sugar levels quickly and easily.
- Wear athletic shoes that are in good condition and check your feet daily. Diabetes can cause circulation issues and foot problems, so be aware of any sores or other signs of trouble.
- Exercise with a friend if possible and tell them about the signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and what to do if you need help.
- Wear a medical ID bracelet identifying you as having diabetes.
Exercises to try
This is an easy, low-impact exercise, especially if you’re overweight. All you need are good shoes and comfortable clothes and you’re ready to start! Regular walking for 30 minutes at least three times a week helps build muscle, burn fat, and has cardiovascular benefits. The trick is not to amble, but to walk briskly and swing your arms. A good rule of thumb is to walk fast enough to be able to talk, but not sing.
Swimming is a great cardiovascular workout that’s easy on your joints, as well as a terrific choice if you’re overweight or have arthritis. Swimming exercises both upper and lower body muscles at the same time, and it can burn 350 to over 400 calories per hour. For people suffering from the numbness and pain associated with diabetic neuropathy, swimming is an ideal, no-impact activity.
Water aerobics can be a good choice if you don’t like to swim or don’t know how. Being in the water is calming, both mentally and physically, and the gentle resistance of water can be a fun way to get your workout, allowing you to burn more calories in less time. See if your local fitness center offers classes, or you can also find how-to videos online.
Many people love the fitness benefits and flexibility that yoga provides, and classes are available in almost every community. If you’ve never tried it, or have balance or flexibility issues, seek out beginner classes. Yoga works all the body’s muscle groups and helps you stretch, strengthen and tone. Over time, practicing yoga also increases balance and coordination, improves circulation and helps reduce stress.
Yard or housework
You may not think of raking the leaves, planting flowers, or mopping floors as exercise, but they’re a great way to get moving. In fact, an hour of doing multiple household tasks like vacuuming, mopping and dusting with moderate effort burns 170 calories, and sweeping the garage or sidewalks can burn up to 200 calories.
If you like to ride a bike, this can be a fun way to vary your exercise routine and enjoy the fresh air and scenery. To keep your blood sugar levels steady while cycling, carry an easy-to-eat snack and a water bottle to stay hydrated. You can also pedal away on a stationary bike at home or in the gym.
Try weight training at a gym (and no, you don’t have to stack the barbells!). If you’re not familiar with the equipment, staff members can help get you started. If you don’t belong to a gym, you can also try pull-ups, push-ups or other resistance training exercises. Any activity that contracts the muscles helps keep your blood glucose levels lower and builds bone strength. You don’t have to overdo it – about 20-30 minutes two or three times a week is all you need to reap the benefits.
Exercise is a good idea for anyone, but it offers extraordinary benefits if you have diabetes. From good blood sugar control to better heart health, an active lifestyle can help you live a longer, healthier life.
Want to know more? Find more helpful information and tips by visiting our “Lifestyle” section.