Is exercise part of your diabetes care routine? "Physical activity is an important component of diabetes self-care that is often overlooked," explained Dr. Akuffo Quarde, a board-certified physician in internal medicine, endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism.
"Regular exercise allows the human body to use insulin (the hormone that reduces blood sugar) better," says Dr. Quarde. In general, exercise helps people with type 1 and 2 diabetes reach their ideal weight, reduces cholesterol levels, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, improves blood pressure, increases physical strength and bone density, and reduces anxiety, depression, and stress levels.
Harvard Health found that regular exercise can reduce A1C by 0.7% even when you maintain your current weight. While aerobic activity, resistance training, and strength training have beneficial effects, you'll see the best results when you complete a variety of activities.
Dr. Arti Thangudu, an internal medicine doctor board-certified in endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism, says, "exercise, even in small amounts, can make a huge difference for diabetes. One bout of exercise can actually lower excess blood sugar for 24 hours."
The Diabetes Care journal found that getting up from sitting every 30 minutes boosts overall health. This is a simple lifestyle change, in general, to add to your day. If you have limited mobility, taking brief breaks from sitting might be easier than scheduling longer exercise sessions.
For younger individuals and more physically fit adults, the American Diabetes Association suggests at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. Aim to exercise at least four days a week (on a regular basis).
While 150 minutes can sound intimidating, this breaks down to about 20 minutes per day. The best part is you can spread this time out over the entire day!
For example, you can go for a 5-minute walk around the office in the morning before getting your coffee, do 10 minutes of yoga after work, and do another 5 minutes of walking before curling up to watch Netflix. Bam. You've gotten in 20 minutes of movement.
Dr. Quarde says, "for people with limited mobility, minor activities such as gardening, dancing, yoga, walking (even less than a mile) and housework have a healthy impact on blood sugar control." So get those walking shoes on and rethink what exercise looks like.
According to Dr. Quarde, start by talking "to your primary care doctor or endocrinologist before engaging in any new exercise routine." Your health care team will help you determine which exercises are the safest and best choices for your health. You can also discuss how to safely manage your blood glucose levels during and after exercising.
Keeping an eye on your blood sugar levels is incredibly important to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Ideally, plan your exercise for times your blood sugar is naturally higher. For most people, this is one to three hours after eating.
Dr. Quadre suggests having " a light snack to help prevent low blood sugar if your blood glucose is less than 100mg/dl before you engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity." Another good practice is testing 30 minutes after your snack, even if you're still exercising, to ensure your blood sugar is stable.
Harvard Health also cautions against exercising when your blood sugar is over 250 as some forms of exercise increase blood sugar levels instead of lowering them. For example, aerobic exercise tends to cause blood glucose levels to fall, while anaerobic exercise like weight lifting increases blood sugar.
"Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) involving your feet can increase your risk for blisters and ulcers. It is important to check your feet daily," cautions Dr. Quarde. Invest in supportive shoes and good cotton or wool socks to keep your feet dry.
Remember, exercise doesn't have to mean long sessions at the gym or running for miles. Like Dr. Quarde and Dr. Thangudu advised, even small amounts of movement are crucial for your diabetes care plan. Low-impact exercises and shorter durations of exercise are just as good as vigorous activities if it means you'll actually get up and move. Check out this post about little ways to fit exercise into your day.
Exercise shouldn't feel like a punishment or something you dread. Because you make time for the activities you enjoy, choose activities that excite you or, at the very least, sound appealing. Any form of movement, from walking to dancing to gardening, counts!
It's easy to get caught up with the demands of life and put self-care on the back burner. Schedule exercise time like you would a work meeting or doctor's appointment. Alternatively, leave for an errand 15-30 minutes early. Take that extra time to walk or stretch.
Let’s face it, exercising can be lonely and boring. Plus, it's tempting to start late, stop early, or give it a half-hearted effort when no one's around. Enlist family or friends to be active with you or be your accountability partner.
If you want additional support or aren't ready to share your journey with others, consider getting a fitness coach. They can guide you every step of the way in a nonjudgemental space. A couple of added benefits of having a personal trainer are knowing where to start and getting a personalized routine you’ll actually want to follow.
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Dr. Akuffo Quarde is board certified physician in internal medicine, endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism. You can view his blog here https://www.myendoconsult.com