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Exercise & Diabetes

Regular exercise and general physical activity is strongly encouraged for people living with diabetes. This includes type 1 and type 2 diabetes, both on the rise. In addition to healthy eating, an active lifestyle is an important key to good blood glucose control and the prevention of long term complications of diabetes.

Exercise & Diabetes

Exercise makes the cells of the body more sensitive to insulin which results in a more optimal uptake of glucose. Better blood glucose levels lead to a better HbA1c level which may mean a reduction in medication or insulin. In addition to improved insulin sensitivity, exercise removes glucose from the bloodstream via a non-insulin related pathway. This is great news if you have insulin resistance or diabetes and there is more …

Other benefits of exercise include:

  • weight management
  • reduction of cholesterol and high blood pressure
  • increased energy levels
  • improved blood circulation
  • stress relief
  • better sleep
  • strengthened muscles and bones
  • improved balance and joint flexibility
  • reduced symptoms of depression

It is, however, important to be sensible when exercising with diabetes. Here are some safety tips before starting:

  • visit your doctor to check bloods, feet and eyes
  • start off slowly
  • warm up before stretching prior to exercise
  • stay hydrated by drinking water (if exercising for a prolonged time, use a beverage containing carbohydrates)
  • wear light weight and light coloured clothing to prevent excessive sweating summer
  • when exercising in winter, keep your head, hands and feet warm
  • wear the appropriate shoes and socks for your chosen activity
  • check your feet for blisters or injuries after exercising
  • protect against fungal infections by wearing slops if you shower at the gym
  • air your sports shoes out in the sun
  • carry your glucometer for blood glucose monitoring
  • notify your/ your child’s coaches or trainers about your diabetes

Preventing low blood glucose levels when exercising with diabetes is also very important. Blood glucose levels can drop during and after exercise (up to 12 hours post exercise). While you want an improved HbA1c, you do not want extreme lows during or after exercise as this can be dangerous. Be sure to eat an adequate meal or snack a minimum of 1 hour prior to exercising. Additional steps to take include:

  • testing your blood glucose 30 minutes before and just prior to exercising
  • if your blood glucose is dropping before exercise, eat an additional snack prior to exercise
  • If exercising for more than an hour, test every 30 minutes and snack if your blood glucose is dropping too fast
  • If exercising hard for an extended period of time, continue checking regularly during the 24 hours following your exercise as the body will use glucose from the blood to replenish glycogen stores (glucose supply stored in the liver and muscles)
  • Depending on your exercise, your blood glucose level can also rise with exercise as the body converts stored glycogen back to glucose in the blood. Test for ketones if your blood levels are too high.
  • If you use insulin to manage your blood glucose levels, work with your doctor to learn how to adjust your doses for your activity level
  • If exercising competitively or at a high level, consult a dietician to create a tailor made eating plan to assist you in managing your diabetes
  • wear some form of diabetes alert band or bracelet for increased safety when exercising or participating in events.
  • always have an extra carbohydrate containing snack readily available

We should be exercising for 40 minutes, 4 times a week (or every second day) in addition to clocking 5000 steps per day.  Standing up and walking regularly throughout the day is advised in addition to exercise.And most importantly, exercise can be enjoyable and need not occur in a gym. Family hikes, walks on the beach, gardening, swimming, cycling, golfing all count towards your exercise goals.

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