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Physical activity and exercise when you have diabetes

  • Physical activity/exercise is important for everyone but especially for people with diabetes. It can lower your glucose level and help your body use insulin better. Other benefits include:

    • lowering blood pressure
    • decreasing bad cholesterol
    • burning calories, building muscle and losing fat
    • helping you to feel better and have more energy
    • reducing stress

    Differences between physical activity and exercise

    Activities are things you do each day, such as walking to your car, making a meal, doing a hobby, or housework. Exercises are physically-exerting activities done to make your muscles, heart and lungs stronger.

    Getting started with physical activity

    • Choose activities that you enjoy.
    • Any increase in daily activity is helpful. Simple ways to increase your daily activity are:
      • Park farther away at the shopping mall or grocery store and walk.
      • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
      • Do yard work or housework.
      • Move around during TV commercials

    Adding exercise

    Tip

    Drink water before, during and after exercise.

    There are four types of physical activity that can help keep you healthy:

    • everyday: Everyday activities include things you do on a daily basis such as doing laundry, getting ready for work or cooking dinner. These activities keep your body moving throughout the day.
    • aerobic (cardiorespiratory): Aerobic activity is rhythmic and repetitive, and continues for at least 30 minutes (walking, swimming, biking, etc.). Doing aerobic activity restores a stead supply of oxygen to the muscles that are being worked.
    • strength training: Strength training improves your muscle strength and tone, reduces body fat and may reduce pain in your low back. There are several different types of strength training: elastic bands, cuff and hand weights, free weights, wall pulleys, weight machines, yoga and Pilates.
    • balance and stretching: Balance and stretching activities enhance your stability and flexibility. Examples include gentle stretching, dancing, yoga and the martial arts. Stretch each muscle group before and after aerobic activity, strength training and weight-bearing activities. Never bounce.

    Exercise precautions

    Tip

    To tell how hard you are exercising you can use the "talk test." This is your ability to have a fairly normal conversation while exercising.

    If you can sing, you need to work a little harder. If you have trouble talking, you need to slow down.

    Remember the following basic exercise guidelines:

    • Check with your health care provider before starting a program.
    • Wear layers of loose-fitting clothing so you can adapt to temperature and/or environment changes. Wear comfortable athletic shoes that tie.
    • Avoid outdoor exercise in very hot or cold temperatures.
    • Start your exercise slowly by stretching and warming up (a slow pace of exercise for 5 minutes). Finish your exercise by cooling down (a slower-paced exercise for 10 minutes).
    • Do not exercise if you are not feeling well or if you have a temperature of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Do not exercise if you have type 1 diabetes and your blood glucose is more than 250 mg/dL.
    • Do not drink alcohol right before or after exercise.
    • If you take insulin or sulfonylurea, carry candy or glucose tablets with you during exercise to use if your blood glucose gets below 80 mg/dL or if you have symptoms of low blood glucose.
    • Check your blood glucose before and after exercise if you take insulin or a sulfonylurea. If your glucose level is less than 100 mg/dL before you start to exercise, have a piece or fruit, one-half cup of fruit juice or any other food that can give you 15 grams of carbohydrate.
    • If you have low blood glucose two times a week before or after exercise, be sure to check with your health care provider or diabetes educator to see if you need a change in your diabetes medicine.
    • Check your feet for signs of blisters, redness or injury. Do not exercise until your feet have healed.
    • Stop right away if you feel new pain or discomfort. Check with your health care provider.

    Positive changes from exercise

    Tip

    If you are not used to regular exercise, start by walking around the block once or twice. The more exercise you do, the stronger you will get.

    Beginning an exercise program can be a challenge, but after a few days or weeks you will begin to see and feel these positive changes:

    • more confidence and independence
    • more energy to do your everyday activities
    • less difficulty reducing or maintaining weight
    • more strength and endurance
    • increased flexibility and balance
    • improved feeling of well-being and a reduction in stress
    • better quality sleep

    You do not need to join a health club or buy expensive health equipment to exercise. Choose an exercise you enjoy so you will stick with it. If you feel adventurous, try something new. You may find a hidden talent or new passion.

  • Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Basic Skills for Living with Diabetes, sixth edition
    Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts
    First published: 12/01/2006
    Last reviewed: 01/09/2015


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  • Tip

    Examples of exercise are:

    • swimming
    • rowing
    • jogging
    • walking
    • biking
    • low-impact aerobics

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