Most people living with diabetes know they should exercise regularly. However, for those who currently get little to no exercise, the advice to “exercise regularly” may sound confusing or even daunting. How often is “regularly,” and how demanding does the activity have to be?
Fortunately for most people with diabetes, small increases in activity can reap big rewards. Simply being more physically active than you are now can significantly benefit your health. You don’t need to run a 5K or hit the gym for an hour. All you need to do is get moving, and that can mean walking, dancing, cycling, swimming, gardening, doing tai chi or dozens of other activities.
Physical activity helps control blood sugar—and more.
How much is enough? Research has shown that even a single session of moderate exercise can increase the body’s uptake of glucose by 40% or more in individuals with insulin resistance. In addition, being physically active makes cells more sensitive to insulin for at least 16 hours, enabling them to use insulin more effectively. Both actions help decrease blood sugar.
To reap the most benefits, aim to do something active most days of the week. If you are taking insulin or medication for diabetes and you consistently become more physically active, you may be able to reduce the amount you take. (Of course, never change your medications or insulin without your physician’s approval.)
Not only can regular physical activity help decrease blood sugar, it offers important cardiovascular benefits. Becoming more active on a regular basis can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, improve blood circulation and reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Plus, because activity raises your metabolism for several hours after you stop exercising, you’ll keep burning calories after your session. This can help you maintain a healthy weight or lose excess pounds if needed.
Ready to get started?
If you haven’t been exercising, first check with your physician or diabetes educator. It’s always a good idea to have professional guidance, especially if you have diabetes complications or other conditions that may affect the type or amount of activity you do. Start slowly, rest when you get tired and gradually work up to a consistent exercise habit.
Finally, people with diabetes may be more vulnerable to foot injuries or infections, so be sure to give your feet special care during and after exercise. Choose shoes that fit correctly, do not rub or press against your skin, and are appropriate for your activity. Examine your feet for bruises or irritation after exercise, and let your doctor know immediately if your feet are red, sore or swollen.
Want to make a difference in the fight against diabetes? Enroll in ACE's Diabetes Prevention Coaching course and learn evidence-based disease-prevention strategies you can use with clients coping with, or at risk for, diabetes.