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Exercise Tips for Diabetes

According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise can help prevent diabetes, as well as help current diabetics control their blood sugar. Aerobic exercise combined with strength training helps you lose weight, which is key since obesity is one of the contributing factors towards developing diabetes. Exercise also increases your sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. Finally, exercise helps lower your blood sugar, which is why so many people with diabetes take up walking to help control their condition. A study published in The Journal of Diabetes Complications in 2006 showed the exercise helped significantly control peripheral neuropathy. A brisk walk four times a week on a treadmill for one hour slowed the progression of nerve damage.

Forget the Sweat

While aerobic activity benefits your heart and helps you lose weight, there are other ways to exercise that don’t involve getting sweaty. Yoga and stretching help increase your flexibility, and many people enjoy the relaxation benefits of yoga. Weight training with light weights or using resistance band helps tone muscles, and the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns at rest.

Think Low Impact

Running, high-impact aerobics and similar activities may be too harsh on your joints, especially if you are overweight. Swimming is one of the best exercises around, since the water supports the joints as you swim. Many gyms offer water aerobics classes or you can search online for water aerobics routines. Special equipment for water exercise is available at many discount and sporting goods stores at a reasonable price.

If you don’t have access to a pool, consider walking. All you need is a comfortable pair of walking shoes. There are many walking tracks in most communities, or you can walk in your neighborhood. It’s best to avoid walking on concrete or asphalt; instead, look for soft surfaces such as grass or gravel paths. If walking in areas not maintained as walking trails, such as in the woods, be careful to watch your footing as natural surfaces may be uneven or have rocks that could make you slip and fall.

Everything Counts

While the ideal is to exercise at least five days a week for 30 minutes, you don’t have to do it all at once. Simple things such as taking stairs instead of elevators and parking further from the store can sneak exercise into your day. Household chores such as sweeping and mopping also help burn calories. Try walking for 10 or 15 minutes on your lunch hour and after work. By the end of the day you may find that you’ve exercised more than 30 minutes.

Don’t Forget Your Heart

Exercise is also good for your heart. Diabetics are at greater risk for heart disease, strokes, heart attacks and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Benefits of exercise include lowered blood pressure and triglycerides, as well as increased HDL (good cholesterol) levels.

Before Exercising

Get in the habit of checking your blood sugar before and after you exercise. Test for ketones in your urine if your blood sugar is greater than 250 mg/dL. Ketones indicate that your insulin levels are too low and you should not exercise. Follow your health care provider’s instructions on treating with insulin. You may exercise once ketones are no longer present and your blood sugar has dropped.

Eating a light carbohydrate snack such as an apple or orange if your blood sugar is less than 100 will keep your blood sugar from becoming too low. You may want to have a small amount of protein, such as a cheese wedge shortly before working out to give you some energy.


You should stop exercising immediately if you experience any of the following while exercising: Feeling dizzy or faint, chest pain or profuse sweating. Avoid exercising outdoors in hot weather, and drink plenty of water while exercising. If you have pain in the lower extremities this may signal circulation problems and should be reported to your health care provider. If you see black halos around objects or experience blurred vision, check your blood sugar immediately as this can indicate hypoglycemia. If you don’t have your meter with you, treat as if your blood sugar is low.