Exercise and Diabetes

Jo Calnan, CHC, CMES, CPT

There’s a great deal of literature available regarding exercise as a major component of good health, but it’s especially important for individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The physiological benefits of regular exercise for those with the disease include reduced blood glucose levels and improved sensitivity to insulin within the cells. The potential weight loss from activity and a well-balanced diet can help to reduce blood pressure, improve HDL (good cholesterol), and reduce cardiovascular risk. In addition, consistent exercise can help with improved mood and sleep patterns, increased energy and decreased stress. But for many people living with diabetes, the question is how to get started with a sustainable exercise program.

The first item on the check list is to obtain medical clearance from your physician. This is key, as your doctor may offer recommendations and precautions related to the type of exercise routine you are pursuing. They may also advise that you check your blood glucose level both before and after exercising, and discuss what you should do if your blood glucose is either too high or too low.

Second, if insulin injections are required for diabetes management, make the injections into the muscle sites that are not active during a specific physical activity. Don’t forget to wear appropriate footwear and have a water bottle handy.

The right exercise for you should be determined by coupling an activity you know you can accomplish with an activity you enjoy. This gives you the greatest opportunity for continued involvement and success. Start slow and use written goals to help monitor your achievements. Work up to 150 minutes a week of cardiovascular activity in increments of about 10 minutes, and feel free to increase that number for additional benefits if you continue to feel well. For a well-rounded exercise regime, consider adding resistance training, which may improve blood sugar control as well as benefit muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility training for injury prevention and improved joint mobility. Allow exercise to fit in to your lifestyle on a regular basis so that it can become a way of life without too many alterations to your schedule. Exercise should never be a chore; it should be an activity that makes you feel good both physically and mentally.

Track changes in how you feel as you incorporate more activity into your life. Keep a blood sugar log that tracks numbers both before and after exercise. Evaluate your mood, energy level, and how you are sleeping. Elevated self-awareness can be a powerful tool for sustained health.