By: Laurie Edwards for Diabetes1
Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, regular exercise is crucial in terms of reducing the risk of serious long-term complications and improving overall health and quality of life. Mapping out an exercise regimen with your physician, personal trainer, or diabetes educator is a good first step. Keep in mind that starting an exercise program is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make – and once you understand how and why to do so, implementing these changes is not difficult.
Before you get moving, it’s important to understand the different terms used in discussing physical activity:
Aerobic exercise includes activities like brisk walking, riding a bike, and other forms of exercise that get your heart rate up and your blood flowing without being high-impact. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggests getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise (50 to 70 percent of maximum heart rate) or 90 minutes of vigorous exercise (more than 70 percent of maximum heart rate) per week to help maintain glycemic control.
Know your risks – people with diabetes face a higher than average risk of heart disease, so always consult with a physician before starting any kind of exercise regimen.
Certain blood pressure medications can affect your ability to exercise, so discuss the optimal balance of exertion and medication with your doctor.
Getting bored with your workout? Speak with a physical trainer about your condition and your long term fitness goals, and he or she can help you tailor a new workout that is challenging, interesting, and healthy.
Strength training uses weights and certain exercises to build lean muscle and increase flexibility. The ADA suggests performing this kind of activity three times a week and building up to three sets of repetitions of 8 to 10. You should be using weights that, after completion of a repetition, leave your muscles fatigued.
Exercise and Type 1 Diabetes
People with type 1 diabetes have no choice but to use insulin to regulate their blood sugar. Since intensive diabetes control or certain insulin regimens can sometimes result in weight gain, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease on its own, regular exercise is doubly beneficial.
Hypertension and cardiovascular disease remain some of the most serious long-term complications of diabetes, and exercise can combat them. Research shows that for people with type 1 diabetes, exercise can increase sensitivity to insulin, making it more effective at stabilizing blood sugar levels.
Exercise also lowers blood pressure and helps lower cholesterol, a benefit for those who fear the effect of their disease on their heart.
Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes
Excess weight is the number one risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, and even modest weight loss is effective in slowing the progression of diabetes and reducing cardiovascular risk in those already diagnosed with the disease. Since some of the oral medications used to treat type 2 diabetes also increase the risk of weight gain, establishing a regular fitness routine as early as possible is the best way to stave off further complications.
In addition to keeping weight down and heart rates up, regular exercise also increases sensitivity to insulin in people with type 2 diabetes, and more stable blood sugars are better for overall cardiovascular health.
Because blood sugars can fluctuate significantly during exercise, you should keep in mind the following considerations:
- Avoid exercise if glucose levels are under 100 mg/dL or over 300 mg/dL, and always test before, during, and after any workout.
- Whenever possible, try to avoid hypoglycemia by injecting insulin as far away from the muscles you will use most vigorously.
- Drink plenty of fluids, and remember that you may need to decrease your insulin dose or consume more carbohydrates before your workout.
- People with retinopathy, another complication of diabetes, should avoid especially high-impact exercise, as it can weaken blood vessels in the eyes.