Exercise is important for everyone, but it can be especially important for your health if you have diabetes. People who exercise regularly are better able to control their diabetes, thereby reducing their risk of diabetes complications. But despite these benefits, as few as 39 percent of people with type 2 diabetes get regular physical activity, according to a recent study.
Diabetes and Exercise: Why It’s Important to Stay Fit
If you have diabetes, you have an increased risk of developing certain health conditions, including heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and nerve problems. By following your doctor’s recommendations for keeping your blood glucose levels under control, you can reduce your risk of developing these complications.
Researchers have found that people who exercise regularly have:
- Lower blood glucose levels
- Lower blood pressure
- Better cholesterol levels
- Improved ability to use insulin
- Decreased risk of stroke
- Decreased risk of heart disease
- Stronger bones
- Less chance of falling
- Easier weight loss
- Less body fat
- More energy
- Reduced stress levels
In addition, if you use insulin to treat your diabetes, exercise can be part of the daily schedule that you and your diabetes health care team develop to control your blood glucose levels.
Diabetes and Exercise: Getting Started
Talk with your diabetes health care team before you begin an exercise program. They can help you design an exercise program that is safe and effective for you. Make sure to ask about any limitations. If you have heart disease, kidney disease, eye problems, or foot problems, there may be some physical activities that you should not do.
To get started with an exercise program:
- Find physical activities you like. Choose activities that you enjoy doing and that are convenient. Try new activities, such as walking, dancing, swimming, or bicycling, until you find one you like.
- Schedule your workouts. Make exercise part of your schedule, just like work and doctor appointments. Aim to work out for at least half an hour on most or all days of the week.
- Slowly increase your time and intensity. Don’t start out doing too much, or you may get burned out. Begin with just a few minutes, and add a little time, distance, or intensity to your workouts each week.
- Find an exercise partner. Ask a friend or neighbor to join you in your exercise plan. For many people, having a person who is counting on you will make you less likely to skip a workout.
- Keep a workout journal. Each time you exercise, write down what you did and what your blood glucose levels were. That way you can keep track of your progress and see how activity affects your diabetes control.
Diabetes and Exercise: A Note about Hypoglycemia
Although exercise is an excellent way to help control your blood glucose levels, it is not without its risks. One of the most serious risks of exercising when you have diabetes is a condition called hypoglycemia.
With hypoglycemia, increased activity causes your blood glucose to fall to dangerously low levels. This can happen while you are exercising or even many hours later. Hypoglycemia can make you feel shaky, weak, and confused. If your blood glucose levels drop low enough, hypoglycemia could cause you to faint or have a seizure.
Talk with your doctor about strategies for preventing hypoglycemia. You may need to have a snack before you exercise or closely monitor your blood glucose levels before, during, and after exercising.
In addition to eating healthfully and taking insulin or other diabetes medications, exercise is a valuable tool for keeping you healthy. Commit to a regular exercise program, and you will not only have better control over your diabetes, but you will also gain more self-confidence and a better sense of well-being.