Exercise is an important part of managing your diabetes. It can help you lose weight, if you are overweight. It also helps prevent weight gain. Exercise helps lower your blood sugar without medicines. It reduces your risk for heart disease and stress. Be patient. It may take several months after you start exercising before you see changes in your health.
Your health care provider should make sure your exercise program is safe for you. Call your doctor if you feel faint, have chest pain, or feel short of breath when you exercise. If you take medicines that lower your blood sugar, exercise can make your blood sugar go too low. Talk to your doctor or nurse about how to take your medicines when you exercise. Some types of exercise can make your eyes worse if you already have diabetic eye disease. Get an eye exam before starting an exercise program. This can make sure your exercise program will be safe for you.
Start slowly with walking. If you are out of shape, walk for 5 - 10 minutes. Try to set a goal of fast walking. You should do this for 30 - 45 minutes at least 5 days a week. Do more if you can. Swimming or exercise classes are also good. Wear a bracelet or necklace that says you have diabetes. Tell coaches and exercise partners that you have diabetes. Always have fast-acting carbs with you. Carry emergency phone numbers with you. Drink plenty of water. Do this before, during, and after exercising. Try to exercise at the same time of day, for the same amount of time, and at the same level. This will make your blood sugars easier to control.
When you exercise, check your blood sugar before exercise. Also check it during exercise, if you are exercising for longer than 45 minutes. Then, make sure to check it right after exercise, and later on. Exercise can make your blood sugar drop up to 12 hours after you are done.
If you use insulin, ask your doctor when you should eat before you exercise. Also find out how to adjust your dose when you exercise.
Keep a snack nearby that can raise your blood sugar quickly. Examples are:
- 2-3 glucose sweets
- 1 tablespoon sugar, plain or dissolved in water
- 1 tablespoon honey or syrup
- Fruit juice
Have a larger snack if you will be exercising more than usual. You can also have more frequent snacks. You may need to adjust your medicine if you are planning unusual exercise. Read more in our section Dietary advice. If exercise causes a lot of low blood sugars, talk with your doctor. You may need to lower the dose of your medicine.
You might not feel pain in your feet because of your diabetes. You may not notice a sore or blister on your foot. Call your doctor for any changes on your feet. Small problems can become serious if they go untreated. Always check your feet for any problems before and after exercise. When you exercise wear socks that keep moisture away from your feet. Also wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes.
"Walking is for everyone and provides tremendous health benefits," says Michael See, a clinical exercise physiologist at Joslin.
"Jogging is a great form of exercise for individuals who prefer to participate in a more vigorous exercise program," he adds. The following are his tips to get the benefits of a healthy running program:
- Get your doctor's clearance. People with diabetes should consult their healthcare providers if they want to go beyond purposeful walking, to make sure that they are not at risk for cardiovascular, orthopedic or other problems.
- Walk before you run. Go from walking to running in a gradual process. Begin with purposeful walking (for half an hour or so), then combine walking and jogging, and then increase the jogging.
- Wear the right footwear. Consult with an expert when you buy the shoes. Make sure that they fit well and are appropriate for running.
- Dress appropriately. Dress in layers; wear absorbent materials close to skin to wick away perspiration and an outer layer to protect you from the wind and other elements. Wear a reflective vest if you're out at night.
- Find a partner or role model. Look in your community for running groups or clubs. Invite your neighbor or colleague to join together during lunch. If you're interested in going the distance and even maybe running a marathon, pair up with someone who has done it.
- Keep a goal in mind. You may want to set your sights on an event such as a five-kilometer road race for charity.
- Have a plan for managing your diabetes. Measure your blood sugar before and after the activity (and during it, if needed). Carry juice, a sports drink, a piece of fruit or glucose tablets. Keep a training log, recording your miles and your blood glucose readings.
- Listen to your body. Starting gradually and being consistent are the secrets to improving your health and fitness, avoiding injury and managing your blood sugar levels.