Regular physical activity has many benefits in diabetes management. Exercise can help improve blood glucose levels, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Be sure to talk to your health care professional before beginning or changing an exercise program.
For people with diabetes, being physically active is especially important because it boosts fitness levels and improves blood glucose control.
It doesn't have to be a marathon to make a difference. You can spend hours at the gym, but just as important are those hours of gardening, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and strolling around the block after dinner, that help you keep your diabetes in control. If you learn to make exercise a habit — a fun habit — your body will enjoy an amazing number of benefits. Please make sure you consult your diabetes health care team when considering changes to your level of physical activity.
Canadian guidelines recommend:
For people with diabetes, exercise can:
- 150 minutes of physical activity per week — this includes activities that use large muscle groups for at least 10 minutes at a time. Some examples are brisk walking, swimming, dancing, and aerobic exercise classes.
- Resistance exercises three times per week — these exercises use muscle strength for activities such as weight lifting, resistance bands, and exercise weight machines
Exercise Program Reminders
- Help the body use insulin more effectively
- Lower blood glucose levels
- Strengthen heart and lungs
- Reduce body fat and increase muscle
- Assist with weight control
- Help in coping with stress
- Improve self-image
- Help reduce risk factors for heart disease
- Lower blood pressure
- Before starting an exercise program, see your doctor for a check-up. Have your heart, feet, and eyes checked during your visit
- Certain types of exercise may worsen diabetes complications. For example, if you have experienced loss of feeling in your feet, it is best to avoid exercises that increase risk of foot or ankle injuries. If you suffer from retinopathy, avoid exercises that require low head positions or straining as in weight lifting. They may increase pressure inside the eyes.
- Increase activity level gradually to avoid injury. You can start with as little as 10 minutes of exercise at a time.
- Always wear your diabetes identification bracelet or necklace
- Learn how to prevent hypoglycemia during exercise
- If you take insulin or diabetes medication always carry fast acting glucose tablets or a drink such as juice
Check blood glucose levels before and after the activity. If you take diabetes medication and/or insulin, you need to be aware that the glucose-lowering effects of physical activity can last for many hours after the activity. Insulin and/or food intake may also need to be adjusted after physical activity. Frequent blood glucose monitoring will help in making adjustments.
Exercise Safety for Insulin Users
- Ask your diabetes health care team how and when to test your blood glucose, and how to adjust your insulin and food to prevent low blood glucose levels
- Carry your meter with you. If you take diabetes pills or insulin, test your blood glucose before, during, and after exercising.
- Stop and test if you feel any symptoms while exercising. Stop exercising if you have pain or feel tired.
- Adjust insulin or have a snack as required.
- Always carry a carbohydrate snack such as fruit juice or granola bars and learn how much extra is needed for prolonged exercise
- Inject insulin in the abdomen or a limb not used for activity. Injecting insulin into the exercising limb can cause the insulin to act faster than usual
Avoid swimming or taking long hikes alone
- Wear MedicAlert® identification
Source: LifeScan Canada Ltd.
Resources & Links
For tips on how to manage your diabetes with physical activity go to: Canadian Diabetes Assocation
For ideas to increase physical activity in you life see Winnipeg in Motion