Exercise increases insulin sensitivity, leaving your cells better equipped to take glucose from your blood and use it as fuel. Muscle contraction also increases the ability of your cells to use glucose, thus lowering the amount of glucose floating around in your blood. It is very important that you take time to exercise if you have diabetes, but there are a few things that you should be aware of either before starting an exercise program or before stepping your current program up so, I present to you, five effective diabetes exercise guidelines:
1. Check Your Blood Glucose Frequently
You must check your blood glucose before lacing up. If it’s less than 100 mg/dl, you need a snack containing 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrate. This could be a piece of fruit, three to six sandwich crackers with peanut butter or cheese, or a yogurt. If your glucose is between 100 and 250 mg/dl, you’re good to go! If your glucose is over 250, you should test your urine for ketones. If you have ketones in your urine, it means that your body is breaking fat down for energy and you do not have enough insulin present to get the glucose in your blood into the cells so that it can be used as fuel. Once you’re exercising, check your blood glucose every 30 minutes and stop exercising immediately if it drops below 70, or if you’re feeling shaky, weak, or confused. If your blood sugar does drop too low, eat 15-20 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate, such as glucose tablets, hard candy, or orange juice and test again in another 15 minutes. You can run through this cycle of 15 grams carbohydrate and 15-minute wait until you test again.
If you do the cycle three times and can’t get your blood glucose level up, call 911; don’t try to drive yourself to the emergency room! Be aware that your blood glucose can drop even four to eight hours after you’ve finished exercising. It’s a good idea to eat a slower-acting carbohydrate after you’re done exercising to help prevent this from occurring. Sweet potatoes, quinoa, and apples are examples of slow-release carbohydrates. People with Type 1 Diabetes or people with Type 2 Diabetes who are on insulin or insulin secretagogues are most likely to have to deal with low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) either while exercising or after exercising. No matter what type of diabetes you have, it’s important to stay hydrated when working out. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise. Always remember to consult your physician about exercise and the necessary actions to take before, during and after exercise especially as it relates to your specific measurements.
2. The Importance of Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise makes it easier for your body to use insulin, improves health heart and blood circulation, and keeps your bones strong. You should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week. Examples of moderate intensity exercise include walking at a pace of three miles per hour, water aerobics, ballroom dancing, and gardening. It’s important to talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity of your workouts. Most people will need to start slow and gradually increase the intensity of their workouts. If 30 minutes of aerobic exercise seems daunting to you, split it into three 10-minute exercise breaks throughout the day. Another good way to start is by wearing an exercise tracker or pedometer.
Your goal should be to eventually work your way up to 10,000 steps each day. Less than 5,000 steps a day is considered sedentary. Muscles use a lot of glucose, so it makes sense to work them out using weights or resistance bands for 20-30 minutes two to three times a week. You can also use your own body weight by doing exercises such as pull-ups and push-ups. Flexibility and balancing exercises are especially important as we age. Tight muscles can cause pain and difficulty doing simple tasks, while balance issues increase falls. If you have a chronic health condition, you might want to seek the help of either an occupational therapist or a physical therapist to help you develop a stretching routine appropriate for you.
3. If You Can’t Seem to Get Motivated to Exercise, These Tips Might Help:
- Make arrangements to meet a friend at the gym or at a specific spot for a walk. Knowing that someone you like is waiting for you makes heading out the door much more enticing.
- Consider a few sessions with a personal trainer. The machines and noise of a health club or gym can be overwhelming, and many people feel lost when they walk in. Having someone show you the ropes and create a plan specific for you and your needs can be very motivating.
- Write it in your calendar, just like all of your other obligations. A lot of times, exercise is the first thing to get nixed during a busy day or week. Remember that the energy you get from exercising will make it easier to deal with all of those other tasks.
- Find an activity that you like. You’ll soon stop an exercise plan if it’s something that you dread. It will take some work to find something that you look forward to, but it’s worth it!
- Pick out a small reward for yourself and set specific goals; an example is “If I work out at least 20 days this month, I will treat myself to a massage”.
4. Working a Few Minutes of Activity into Your Daily Routine Really Does Add Up!
- Use light hand weights while talking on the phone.
- Walk or run up and down the stairs in your house during commercial breaks.
- Learn some chair exercises that you can do anytime.
- Make extra trips when carrying laundry or bringing things in from the car. A lot of us try to make as few trips as possible, so this will take some getting used to!
- Get a portable stair stepper or elliptical machine for under your desk.
- Park on the opposite side of the mall or shopping plaza from the store that you need to go to.
- Stand as much as possible during the day. Get up and move around at least every 20 – 30 minutes.
5. Safety Should Come First When it Comes to Exercise:
- Always carry a glucometer, plenty of water, and a fast-acting carbohydrate with you.
- Wear a medical I.D. bracelet – the importance of this can’t be stressed enough!
- Wear 100% cotton socks, and make sure that your shoes are comfortable and supportive. Nothing should rub when you move. Inspect your feet after every time you exercise.
- Keep your insulin in a cooler if you’re heading out on a warm day.
- Use plenty of sunscreen.
- Keep a first aid kit with band-aids, gauze, medical tape, sting relief medicine, and antibiotic cream with you.
- Avoid jumping and any activity that involves your head being below your heart if you have any vision issues – these moves increase pressure on the eyes.
- Do not exercise on an empty stomach.
Always remember to consult your physician about exercise intensity, frequency and other diabetes exercise guidelines.