A UVA Heart & Vascular Center Initiative

Exercise Tips for Diabetics

Posted November 05, 2010

Get the Facts So You Can Get Moving Safely

The benefits of regular exercise should be motivation enough to get us moving. It improves cardiovascular function, prevents hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and numerous other diseases. Exercise also helps with stress management, improves symptoms of depression and increases feelings of wellbeing.

jog on beach However, many of us might feel that the benefits of physical activity are unobtainable if we are “out of shape,” lead inactive lifestyles or have health complications. However, if you do not already exercise, you have the most to gain. So as the holiday season approaches, enjoy physical exercise to help manage the stress of the season and approach the new year with an attitude of wellness.

Get Control Over Diabetes

The rewards of exercising are particularly compelling for diabetics. Since diabetes is a complicated disease caused by the body’s resistance to insulin, exercise is an important tool in regulating blood sugar for either type 1 or type 2 diabetics. By exercising, diabetics can lower the blood sugar level and decrease the need for extra insulin, promote weight loss, and reduce diabetic complications. In addition, if you have a high risk of developing diabetes, exercising can prevent you from becoming diabetic.

When you’re ready to start moving, make sure you consult your physician. She may have some additional guidelines for you to follow to keep you safe during exercise.

What You Need to Know Before You Start Exercising

The main concern for diabetics while exercising is to avoid hypoglycemia, where the blood sugar dips too low. In order to prevent this, make sure to carry your glucometer with you and check your blood sugar before and after you exercise.

Carry an instant carbohydrate with you, like candy or juice.

Do not inject insulin into the primary muscle groups you work during exercise, such as the quadriceps or hamstrings, which conduct cardiovascular activity.

If you plan to work out more than an hour after a meal, have a light snack to keep your blood sugar steady.

Ready to Move? Follow These Steps

  1. A positive exercise goal would be to start enjoying aerobic exercise three to five times a week for 20 to 40 minutes at a time, keeping a moderate pace.
  2. Make sure to warm up and cool down at the beginning and the end of your workout by performing your chosen aerobic activity at lower intensity after stretching your large muscle groups for 10-15 seconds per muscle.
  3. To get your heart rate up, try walking, bicycling outdoors or on a stationary bike, taking an aerobics class or swimming. All of these activities help improve your “cardiorespiratory” fitness and your quality of life by reducing the complications of diabetes.

With these simple steps, feel empowered to start exercising safely and effectively to help manage your diabetes. Remember to work with your physician, monitor your glucose, take your glucometer and an instant carbohydrate to your workout, and enjoy physical movement at a moderate pace. Your mind and body will thank you!


— By Mary Catherine Kinniburgh

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