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Exercise Tips for People with Diabetes

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Exercise Tips for People with Diabetes

February 22, 2011

Written for Diabetes1 by Sarah Mahmood

A quarter of Americans get no exercise during their leisure time, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Less than twenty percent get the recommended amount of exercise. These numbers are dismal, given that exercise is vital to maintaining health, especially for individuals with diabetes.

Diabetes patients are at a higher risk for heart disease, and regular exercise can improve blood circulation and prevent heart problems. Physical activity also helps those with diabetes to:

  • Control their weight, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure
  • Lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol
  • Increase muscle strength and bone density
  • Improve insulin use

If you have diabetes, you should do moderate-intensity exercises for at least 10-20 minutes each day, eventually building up to 30-60 minutes five days a week.

Moderate-intensity physical activities include:

  • Walking briskly
  • Dancing
  • Sports such as tennis, basketball, and volleyball
  • Bicycling
  • Swimming
  • Mowing the lawn

Exercising with a partner is a good way to sustain your routine and make it more enjoyable. Before and after any physical activity, you should stretch to increase flexibility and decrease muscle soreness. For those with Type 2 Diabetes, strength training can have a significant impact on blood glucose level control. Exercising with elastic bands and hand weights builds muscle, which burns more calories and also strengthens bones.

Also try to be more active in your daily life. For example, instead of driving, try to walk whenever possible. Take the stairs instead of the elevator and exercise while watching television.

If you have diabetes complications, you should plan your exercise regimen with a doctor. Generally, though, if a patient has a blood glucose level that is less than 250 mg/dl, and does not have cardiovascular problems or retinopathy, neuropathy, or nephropathy, exercise is recommended, according to the American Diabetes Association.

During physical activity, you may experience hypoglycemia. Symptoms include trembling and shaking, palpitations, drowsiness, and headaches. If this occurs, you should take action immediately. Take a blood-glucose test to confirm that blood glucose levels are low, and rest for 10-15 minutes. You should also eat or drink foods containing sugar (5 or 6 pieces of hard candy, for example, or half a cup of fruit juice). If blood glucose levels are below 100 mg/dl, or you’re still feeling sick, you should not resume exercise. If you decide to continue, test your blood glucose levels every 20-30 minutes. To prevent hypoglycemia, you should eat a snack before exercising if your blood glucose levels are below 100 mg/dl. Make sure to continuously drink fluids to avoid dehydration.  At the conclusion of your activity, check your feet for sores, blisters and other signs of irritation – if left unchecked, they may develop into serious infections.

Discuss in the Diabetes1 forums.

Photo: Mike Baird

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