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Exercise and Diabetes

For people who have diabetes—or almost any other disease, for that matter—the benefits of exercise can’t be overstated. Exercise helps control weight, lower blood pressure, lower harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, raise healthy HDL cholesterol, strengthen muscles and bones, reduce anxiety, and improve your general well-being. There are added benefits for people with diabetes: exercise lowers blood glucose levels and boosts your body’s sensitivity to insulin, countering insulin resistance.1

Many studies underscore these and other benefits from exercise. Following are some highlights of those results:1

  • Exercise lowered HbA1c values by 0.7 percentage point in people of different ethnic groups with diabetes who were taking different medications and following a variety of diets—and this improvement occurred even though they didn’t lose any weight.
  • All forms of exercise—aerobic, resistance, or doing both (combined training)—were equally good at lowering HbA1c values in people with diabetes.
  • Resistance training and aerobic exercise both helped to lower insulin resistance in previously sedentary older adults with abdominal obesity at risk for diabetes. Combining the two types of exercise proved more beneficial than doing either one alone.
  • People with diabetes who walked at least two hours a week were less likely to die of heart disease than their sedentary counter- parts, and those who exercised three to four hours a week cut their risk even more.
  • Women with diabetes who spent at least four hours a week doing moderate exercise (including walking) or vigorous exercise had a 40% lower risk of developing heart disease than those who didn’t exercise. These benefits persisted even after researchers adjusted for confounding factors, including BMI, smoking, and other heart disease risk factors.

How much exercise is right for you?2

For people with diabetes, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week. Exercise is so important for people with diabetes that the American Diabetes Association recommends that these patients miss no more than two days of aerobic exercise in a row.

5 exercises that are good for you2

There are many exercises that will benefit people with diabetes. Here are five we recommend:

  1. Walking — Because anyone can do it almost anywhere, walking is the most popular exercise and one we highly recommend for people with diabetes. Thirty minutes to one hour of brisk walking, three times each week is a great, easy way to increase your physical activity.
  2. Yoga — A traditional form of exercise, yoga incorporates fluid movements that build flexibility, strength and balance. It is helpful for people with a variety of chronic conditions, including diabetes. It lowers stress and improves nerve function, which leads to an increased state of mental health and wellness.
  3. Dancing —Dancing is not only great for your body. The mental work to remember dance steps and sequences actually boosts brain power and improves memory. For those with diabetes, it is a fun and exciting way to increase physical activity, promote weight loss, improve flexibility, lower blood sugar and reduce stress. Chair dancing, which incorporates the use of a chair to support people with limited physical abilities, makes dancing an option for many people. In just 30 minutes, a 150-pound adult can burn up to 150 calories.
  4. Swimming — Swimming stretches and relaxes your muscles and doesn’t put pressure on your joints, which is great for people with diabetes. For those with diabetes or at risk for developing diabetes, studies show it improves cholesterol levels, burns calories and lowers stress levels. To get the most benefit from swimming, we recommend that you swim at least three times a week for at least ten minutes and gradually increase the length of the workout. Make sure to have a snack and monitor blood sugars. Lastly, let the lifeguard know that you have diabetes before you get in the pool.

Remember! Safety comes first2

Before starting an exercise program, talk to your doctor to be sure the exercise you choose is safe and appropriate for your type of diabetes. Remember to start slowly, especially if you have not been physically active for a while.

Below, find other safety tips:

  • Check your blood sugar before and after exercise until you are aware of how your body responds to exercise.
  • Whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, make sure your blood sugar is less than 250 mg/dl before exercising. For people with Type 1 diabetes, exercising with a blood sugar higher than 250 mg/dl may cause ketoacidosis, which can be a life-threatening condition resulting from a lack of insulin in the blood.
  • Do a five-minute warm-up before and a five-minute cool down after exercising.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to prevent dehydration.
  • Be prepared for any episodes of low blood sugar. Have something available that can bring sugar levels up, such as hard candy, or juice.
  • Always carry a cell phone.
  • Avoid exercising in extremely hot or cold temperatures.
  • Wear proper shoes and socks to protect your feet.

Listen to your body. If you become short of breath, dizzy or lightheaded, stop exercising. Report any unusual problems you experience to your doctor.

References: 1. The importance of exercise when you have diabetes – Harvard Health [Internet]. Harvard Health. 2020 [cited 20 July 2020]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-exercise-when-you-have-diabetes. 2. 5 Best Exercises for People with Diabetes [Internet]. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. 2014 [cited 20 July 2020]. Available from:https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-best-exercises-for-people-with-diabetes/

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