Everyone knows that getting regular physical activity is good for you, but it can be particularly beneficial for people with diabetes. Physical activity can help control blood sugar as well as relieve stress, improve heart health, strengthen the muscles and bones, and improve mood. For a person with diabetes, activity helps the body become more sensitive to insulin to help improve a blood sugar control (1).
Despite these benefits, today’s world is full of barriers to actually doing exercise. Time constraints, family obligations, a dislike for exercise, lack of gym funds, or not even knowing how to begin are some obstacles that can get in the way of starting an exercise routine. While it can be easy to get stuck on the obstacles, thinking through and planning ahead can help you incorporate physical activity into your daily routine.
Here are some tips for making exercise part of your regular routine:
- Schedule it in. Make exercise an appointment and stick to it!
- Make it fun. If exercise is enjoyable, you are much more likely to do it. If you like to walk, try a beautiful park. If you like to dance, turn on the radio and jam. If you like to be outside, join a community garden and sign up for gardening hours. If you like to be around others, join your local gym or city recreation center and take a class (any centers have free or low cost options). The opportunities are endless – find the ideal activity for you and mix it up!
- Find a buddy to exercise with: Getting support for regular physical activity can help you to actually do it!
- Sneaking in “incidental” activity: Take the stairs instead of the elevator or parking in the back of the parking lot instead of in front are additional ways to add activity into your daily routine.
- Set up goals and rewards. You can’t get to where you are going if you don’t know your intended destination. Try setting a time-oriented, realistic goal, and make it specific using the SMART acronym:
- Specific: What will you do? Who will you do it with? When will you do it?
- Measurable: How will you know when you achieve it? (e.g., walked a half a mile)
- Achievable: Can you reasonably do it? (e.g., if you are just starting to exercise, setting a goal of running 10 miles isn’t realistic but starting with a half mile is)
- Relevant: Is this something you can and want to do? (If you don’t like running choose another activity)
- Timely: When will you do it?
Once you’ve set your SMART goal, find a buddy (friend or family member) to hold you to it and reward yourself when you reach your goal. For example: “By Friday I will walk around the track 2 times after dinner on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and then I will go see the new movie on Saturday as my reward.”
Before starting any new exercise program, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider. People with conditions involving the heart, eyes, kidney, and nerves may have limitations in the type and intensity of exercises they do. For a person with diabetes, it’s also important to make sure to be prepared for a possible low blood sugar.
Here are some tips for exercising with diabetes:
- Know what low blood sugar is. Hypoglycemia is when blood sugar drops below 70 mg/dl.
- Know the symptoms of low blood sugar. These may include feeling dizzy, shaky, light headed, irritable, and less coordinated.
- Prepare and prevent hypoglycemia. Check blood sugar before exercising. If it’s below 100 mg/dl, have a snack of 15 grams carbohydrate, such as a piece of fruit.
- Carry your glucometer with you to measure your blood glucose as needed.
- Bring glucose tabs or gel in a pocket as emergency quick carb.
- Use caution with high blood sugar. If your blood sugar is 300 or higher, or 250 with ketones, exercise is not advisable and it is recommended to seek medical care. Stay hydrated with water. Consider testing blood sugar after exercise, especially if it was a long and/or intense session.
- Check feet every day and wear comfortable shoes.
- Consider wearing a medical ID and keeping a phone in your pocket.
- Always carry water to stay adequately hydrated.
A simple rule of thumb: if you don’t feel well, don’t exercise. Once you feel better and you have talked to your doctor about exercise, incorporating more activity into your life can have numerous benefits- so get moving and enjoy!
- Bartlett R, Gratton C, Rolf CG eds. Encyclopedia of International Sports Studies. New York, NY: Routledge; 2010:1367-1368.
- Coleman E. Diet, Exercise & Fitness. 8th Edition. Falls Church, VA: Nutrition Dimensions; 2011.
Nicole Anziani, RD, CDE